Improve Saipan so tourists will come, and get rid of As Lito cockfight

By Mabel Doge Luhan

The [Marianas Visitors Authority] not only supports taxing visitor stays, but is happily going on the record saying so! It’s difficult to imagine stronger evidence that MVA is interested not in actually helping Saipan’s economy, but in improving their own funding and vacation budget, no matter what it does to our public purse and our tourist industry.

It all reminds me of that brisk spring day in 1960 when I met Robert Moses (of the Bridge and Tunnel Authority, of course) at Tavern On The Green for Steak Diane and a few Martinis.

“That agency you run — that one that makes you millions of dollars and elevates you to being the most powerful man in the city — ” I began to ask Bob, shaking my head slowly. “What does your agency even do?”

Bob grinned like a Cheshire cat, pawed at the heavy gold chain on his wrist, and shrugged his obviously padded shoulders. He roared: “I have no idea!” And knocked back another gimlet, with a boozy laugh.

I sometimes wonder whether MVA knows that it’s supposed to actually help the economy in the CNMI — rather than helping favored vendors and the staff’s own Instagram feeds and mileage balances.

The February 19th Variety headline says it all: “MVA supports bill to create transient accommodation tax”

The same MVA that spent millions of dollars “supporting” (paying for) tourists to come to Saipan now wants to tax those same tourists? Because that’s what funds MVA?

Essentially, MVA wants to collect taxes from tourists, then give that money back to tourists — all while skimming what, 70% for itself?

I was quite interested to read MVA’s “citizen-centric report.”

Whoever compiled this was no Edward Tufte, but it seems that actual destination enhancement accounts for — wait for it — 6% of MVA’s spending. I’m not making this up, nor throwing accusations. This is what is in their own report, available at the link above.

Only 6% of the money we give MVA actually goes to destination enhancement. Or in other words, if we abolished MVA and just spent that money on destination enhancement directly, we could do SIXTEEN TIMES MORE WITH THE SAME MONEY. (SEVENTEEN TIMES MORE IF ROUNDING UP, BUT I’M NO DPS CHIEF TO ROUND UP TO 17 WHEN CONVENIENT.)

48% of MVA’s budget goes to salaries. Of course. This is in the report they themselves compiled!

26% is promotions. Does that mean ads? Or giveaways? Or parties for Korean businesspeople? Or all of the above?

And then 20% goes to “others,” which must be the helpful label for Langkawi vacations or coke and Chippendales, because without giving us a hint, we can only guess!

That “citizen-centric” report explains everything, doesn’t it? Actually, it sort of does. Whatever money we allocate to MVA, half goes to salaries right off the top. Then another fifth goes to “others,” which I can only hope involves ocean-view hotel rooms in Langkawi and FRESH LOBSTER in Seoul. Then a quarter goes to “promotions,” which is either ads (we certainly need a full-time staff in Saipan, Korea, and Japan to write checks to ad agencies) or giveaways (what if instead of buying travel for Korean travel agents, we’d buy it for medical referral patients?).

What if we just concentrated on becoming a better destination? The list of tasks for that could be written up in an hour. This isn’t difficult. We could even pay some tourism expert a few hundred dollars to do this (just please, no more multi million dollar “studies” conducted by a crony).

There is open cockfighting going on every Sunday in As Lito. I can’t imagine anything more off putting to tourists. And yet it goes on, in flagrant violation of federal law, and to the full shocking dismay of tourists from civilized countries. Will MVA say anything about it? The cockfights run through a large amount of untaxed cash and gambling revenue. Will MVA say anything about that, or will they continue to focus only on taxing the “transient accommodations” to keep the HANMI hotel cartel happy and keep our hotel rooms more expensive than those in Guam or Honolulu?

I’m sorry to be so critical of MVA just a week before their spectacular Langkawi vacation. I know how much they must be looking forward to escaping dumpy Saipan and traveling to a five-star resort in an actually good beach destination such as Langkawi. MVA will come back to ask us for more money to promote the CNMI by traveling to more five-star beach resorts (none of which are in the CNMI).

Maybe MVA would honor the CNMI with their presence once in a while if they improved the destination to make it more worthy of their vacations. Or maybe they’d improve the destination if they actually spent any time here instead of sampling competing destinations around the world.

MVA is the chef who doesn’t eat his own cooking — and makes the guests pay for his lobster delivery!


Mabel Doge Luhan is a woman of loose morals. She resides in Kagman V, where she pursues her passions of crocheting, beatboxing, and falconry.


  • It might be wise for the MVA to work with local resorts and hotels to attract FAMILIES, and to stress a family focused agenda.

    Arranging special family charter flights from Asia might bear fruit also.

  • Sadong Tasi Resident

      02/19/2024 at 2:58 PM

    Saipan looks like a war zone with all poorly managed road construction; I was in Baghdad in 2008 so that’s not hyperbole.

    My advice is to stay away until they can sort this mess. It is too dangerous for Tourists to be walking around. A backhoe almost smashed my car in Susupe on my way home Friday.

    That would have been a fun lawsuit.

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