raised the same concerns last year in this article from the variety.
Over the past eight years Saipanda has appeared in all shapes and sizes including a larger than life mascot that shows up for photo ops and big events such as inaugural flights and international trade shows. It is featured during the “Happy Children in Paradise” program every summer where travelers are met at the airport by the large cuddly creature and children receive Saipanda merchandise including backpacks and water bottles. The large DFS store in Garapan has a huge, towering replica situated in the middle of the souvenir section of the mall and thousands if not millions of people have had their picture taken standing next to it. Not to mention the many purchases of everything from T-shirts to key chains and chocolates bearing its likeness.
MVA also receives revenue from the sale of these tourist items and presumably uses that money to better promote the islands travel industry. How effective has it been? That’s a tough question and probably one that has not been thoroughly answered. In 2007 the variety reported:
“Only 32.2 percent of 1000 Japanese travelers surveyed were aware of the existence of the Saipanda campaign promoting the CNMI in Japan”.I’m not sure I would suggest that 1/3 of the population being aware of Saipanda should be considered as “only” since that seems to be a pretty good market share to me. Could there be a better mascot, perhaps or even likely yes but at the moment this is what we have.
Anyway, the real question becomes a matter of importance and priority. With all the things MVA does or does not do and their pretty hefty budget of taxpayers dollars is this really the most pressing of issues. I mean if Saipanda actually makes money for the local economy and increases awareness of our destination in our primary market shouldn’t we turn our efforts to areas that really need to be addressed?
The development of a new mascot and branding the destination will take a lot of money and it is a crapshoot at best. While not trivial, development of a recognizable brand should take a back seat to that of efforts focused on ensuring everyone who visits our islands leaves with a memorable, positive experience and images of warm, friendly hospitality. If, for the moment, a souvenir bearing our mythical creature can conjure up a desire in Japanese families to return to our island paradise than so be it.
So, the parting question for today is, if you could be the head of MVA for a day, a month, a year, what would your priority be to improve tourism for Saipan, Tinian and Rota?
Trivia Question: Did you know that in 2001 MVA paid 7,000 for a new costume for Saipanda!