Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Taste of India folks doing better in Guam, MV 4

By Jeffrey C. Turbitt

If anyone wants to know where all our Japanese tourists have gone I can reveal the obvious answer and waive the $200,000 MVA consulting fee: They are in Guam -- in droves. A convenience store at 11:30 pm on a Thursday night had a line twenty deep in booming Tumon.

That we're being taken to the woodshed by Guam isn't shocking news, but after a weekend there I am stunned by the contrasts between Guam and here. Guam has more and better restaurants, shopping and hotels, yet not near the beauty of the Marianas Islands. Guam scuba diving was slightly more exciting than sticking your face underwater in the bath tub, yet the dive boats were packed, and I had to call a friend to find a contact to help get me on a boat. That we're losing to this, and not just losing, but getting spanked with Chicago Cubs style abandon befuddles.

I talked to a lot of tourists, Guam residents and former Saipan folks and everyone without exception said Saipan is more beautiful. They happen to be right. The Brown Tree Snake has killed off their King Fischer birds and other birds apparently, though they do not have wild dogs all over. The downtown tourist district though has a life to it that sits in stark contrast to Garapan, which is typically emptier than the space between George W. Bush's ears. That ghost town feel in Garapan, like a lifeless night club, gives that unhappening vibe that doesn't draw repeat business or good memories.

There aren't all that many fish underwater in Guam, and the coral isn't very colorful. Several tourists told me they'd rather go to Saipan, but it is just too inconvenient to get there. I spoke with Japanese divers and they also noticed the absurd prices Saipan dive shops charge, upwards of fifty percent higher than Guam, and they are annoyed by that. When people from Japan, where a gumball purchase practically requires a loan shark or a mortgage broker, think things are expensive, you know you're probably pushing things too much.

In some regards, Guam is making the same mistake as us by putting the strip clubs and karaoke bars in the heart of its tourist district. Naked, writhing women have their place don't get me wrong, when I was single I had a strong recommendation on that place, but it's not in the tourist district where families congregate.

In visiting the Maharani, which is owned and staffed by the same people from the Taste of India in Garapan, the contrasts are even more amazing. The old Taste of India had delicious, exotic food with a very friendly staff at reasonable prices, and they were rewarded with virtually no business. In Guam it's packed every night.

Tom Kallingal is the owner of the Maharani, and after years in Saipan he now has a bustling business with his Indian restaurant. "Back in 89 things were good. The Japanese market gradually came down. Chinese and Koreans go to Chinese or Korean restaurants. Eighty percent of our customers were so called haoles. This island has more support from the community as a whole. We're full every night so far. I expect to see more when the military comes in."

Kallingal said federalization and the minimum wage were no issue for him, and in fact he said federalization is the answer to Saipan's troubles because he feels the current wages don't provide a living. "They won't like it, but federalization is the answer. People can't live on those wages and they will continue to leave." Kallingal didn't blame the CNMI government for his businesses problems, but noted they were not helpful, either. "The government did nothing to help us, but they didn't cause harm, either. The parking issue was a problem for us. The night clubs took over the clean businesses. It hurt us. The families hated to come. Saipan is so much more physically beautiful (than Guam) with its Flame Trees. I really like Saipan, but they are two different markets.”

Joji Cherian, one of the famously friendly waiters now in Guam, says his life has changed for the better because he's getting a lot more pay. He says he is not the only one doing better in Guam. "I really miss Saipan. We had time to talk to customers. We see a lot of people from Saipan, maybe 100, who live here now. Many others have visited us and I'm so happy to see them."


Pauly Vettiyadan, the second half of the dynamic duo from the Old Taste of India, has had similar experiences. "It was easy and sometimes boring. We had a big reputation. We had a lot of mainland customers, but not much else. Here they are more adventurous eaters and the whole community is supportive.”

There really is no reason for Guam to be eating our lunch the way they are right now. The first, second and third solution is going to revolve around more direct flights to these islands. This will lead to better shopping and better restaurants. We certainly have the raw materials to turn this place around as a tourist destination.

19 comments:

lil_hammerhead said...

Just to point out some history for you Jeff - The strip clubs (Vikings, Playboy, Oriental and about five to seven others) were situated in Tumon long before its big development. When I say long before, I remember these places back in the early 80's - 25 years ago.

Jeff said...

They were in Times Square before Virgin Records, the ESPN Zone, Disney et al, and Rudy Giuliani, got them out of Midtown Manhattan.

lil_hammerhead said...

I'm not saying they're good or bad there (although personally I think Theeeeeeere Great!).

But in your post you stated, "Guam is making the same mistake as us by putting the strip clubs and karaoke bars in the heart of its tourist district", I'm just saying that they're not being put there - most of them were already there.

Jeff said...

I suppose it could be rephrased to say "allowing them to remain there", then.

Either way, it's really not the place in my opinion and it will hurt them, as it hurts us here reputation wise.

lil_hammerhead said...

Possibly. I have an issue though with closing down a business that has been in existence for 30 years, for the purpose of community progress, irregardless of what that business is. I also have a different take on the whole visitor marketing strategy of the CNMI that I will elaborate on in a post in the coming days.

Dominic said...

Does the weak dollar help anything for tourists visiting the Marianas?

Bruce A. Bateman said...

If it hurts Guam so much why are the tourists flocking there?

May I point out that they would not long remain in business without clientele.

I would also point out that a family of 4, visiting with a budget of $100 per day beyond their airfare and hotel room package (most of the money for which remains in their country of origin) hardly compares with the seedy but loaded old fart Japanese businessman who comes here with $15 grand to blow in 2 or 3 days of whoopee at these clubs and upscale shops.

I would say there should be some provision made which makes them less visible to suzi homemaker and her 3 children but still allows a viable biz with a nich market to survive the political correctness so prevalent nowdays.

Anonymous said...

The other thing to point out is that Guam has the Military (in addition to tourists) to sustain those businesses. The military presence and expenditure from dependents and others who are present in Guam due to military projects makes a huge difference.. an economy exists.. There is a trickle down effect in many directions when the military is present and spending $$$.

Jeff said...

THe weak dollar should bring more tourists, not less.

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

Irregardless is not a word. Dumb people use it because they think it makes them sound smart...they also use "I" instead of "me" in the wrong places.

Jeff said...

In the harried world of blog comments, people use the wrong word sometimes. I added an e to some word and Brad thought that was worth like 10 joke comments, which tells me his charms aren't working on the ladies the way they once were. Boni's drinking drunk comment turned similarly ridiculous.

Boni said...

What's taken to the woodshed?

Jeff said...

punished, hit, beat up.

bradinthesand said...

irregardless, me like your bloge...

Boni said...

And I like drinking drunk

lil_hammerhead said...

Why thanks Sblogger for correcting my English. But I disagree with you as to whether it is a word or not. If it is commonly used, I consider it a word. Miriam-Webster defines a word as "something that is said, or a written or printed character or combination of characters that represent speech". With regard to Miriam-Webster's take on "irregardless", they state the following,
"Irregardless originated in dialectal American speech in the early 20th century. Its fairly widespread use in speech called it to the attention of usage commentators as early as 1927. The most frequently repeated remark about it is that "there is no such word." There is such a word, however. It is still used primarily in speech, although it can be found from time to time in edited prose."

So, alas, it is a "word". But thanks for taking the shot.

And for the sake of this conversation, I've found in my lengthy career that individuals that feel the need to point out errors in language and writing are almost always themselves insecure and somewhat lacking.

Me going to go now.

Anonymous said...

(noni) it is funny that sblogger regularly refers to particular commentors as "trolls", and yet behaves like one of the "trolls" himself. this isn't the first time he hasn't addressed the topic, but has stooped to degrading a commentor. but then holier-than-thou sblogger is on a whole other plateau... his own rules don't apply to him right?

i know you are careful about posting comments from the anonymous... but considering the last batch of comments, this would be considered on-topic and quite fair. i've certainly made no insinuation that any of the commentors were "dumb".

i miss the taste of india by the way. kalingal is a good guy. the cnmi is losing to many "good guys".

Anonymous said...

too not to... sorry sblogger

Anonymous said...

At least we dont have prostitutes on the side of the road and flagging down our tourists.