MVA needs to stop partying on our dime, and start doing real work

By Mabel Doge Luhan

I commend Chris Concepcion of the Marianas Visitors’ Authority on traveling to Japan to meet with our travel partners and confirm that we don’t have any tourists from Japan. [See ‘Japan market is struggling’ by Kimberly Esmores in the Saipan Tribune]. Until a technology is invented to allow sending messages long-distance, such travels are crucial. Discussing the lack of tourists from Japan is even more crucial when it’s almost sakura season!

To continue these valuable meetings, I suggest Chris travels to Saint-Tropez, Biarritz, and of course Paris, to meet with our partners and confirm that we have very few French visitors. If he likes wine, perhaps he can meet with some of our travel partners in Bordeaux, to confirm that very few Bordelais come to the CNMI. Skiing season is already over, so the meetings with our travel partners in the Swiss Alps can wait until next fiscal year.

The article paraphrases Chris as saying the lack of Japanese visitors is “largely due to circumstances completely out of the CNMI’s control.” Right. So if the fall in tourism numbers is outside the CNMI’s control, then why is Chris there trying to drum up tourism? Why is he collecting a paycheck if, as he says, this is all outside our control?

We won’t even talk about his absolutely cringeworthy statement that he is hoping for the US dollar to weaken against the Yen — so that everything becomes more expensive for us (those of us who pay for our own meals and travels, at least), but at least it will be cheaper for visitors!

As for being out of our control? There are two things determining tourism numbers. The first is how attractive a destination is. That’s the “base” level of tourism. Honolulu and Bangkok have one “base” level. Syracuse has a different “base” level. And then there are temporary, cyclical variations over time, due to currencies, visa issues, politics, fashion trends, economies, and whatever else. Those latter, cyclical variations, we have no control over.

But that base level of attractiveness? Yes, we have all the control in the world over it. In fact, we’ve already been dealt an excellent hand. But we’ve squandered that excellent hand (as most resource-rich places do) by succumbing to croneyism, rent-seeking, and a slash-and-burn approach to tourism.

And we have all the control in the world over how attractive our destination is. Our potential, as far as natural resources, is unlimited. Syracuse or Sacramento have only so much to work with, and only so far they could go as a tourism destination. We, on the other hand, have some of the world’s most stunning natural features, scenery, weather, and environment. We could go far, if we had a government interested in something like widely shared economic development and public goods — not a constant mentality of “how much can I rent out my land for” and “how much can I pocket on this contract” among our supposed leaders.

The MVA could do something about the garbage on our streets, the flashing lights (clearly violating signage regs) around Garapan that make us look like a border casino in Guyana, and the lack of public bathrooms or even — dare we hope — a water tap to rinse off your feet after using the beach, which most of the world’s beaches have.

The MVA could do something about our hotel rates, which are higher than Hawaii’s, despite not just much cheaper everything in the CNMI as compared to Hawaii, but much worse levels of facilities and service. Of course, that would require confronting HANMI, rather than treating it as a savior.

The MVA could do something about tour guides that conspire with business owners to rip off tourists, then share the profits.

The MVA could do something about an airport that has in the gate area, no drinking water fountains, no toilet paper or soap in the bathrooms, and a stand selling mini bottles of water for $4. And just outside security, a stand selling snacks and souvenirs without posted prices, with every customer walking out after buying shaking their head and telling their companions they just got ripped off. Really, this is the best we can do for an airport? On an island where the smallest business is harassed over the smallest paperwork inconsistency — we allow these cronies to ruin the airport experience for our arriving and departing guests?

The MVA could do something about roads where the rules of traffic are nothing like those in Japan or Korea — sending our tourists away with stories of having driven in a place with traffic that feels more like the Philippines or Cambodia. Which is not a compliment coming from Japanese or Korean tourists.

Instead of focusing on the problems with our tourism destination at home, the MVA is partying it up in foreign places — as if taking some tour company or airline executives out to dinner will change the fundamental fact that tourists don’t want to come to Saipan. Of course, working on problems at home doesn’t involve travel, meals, per diems, and airline miles and hotel points. I’d love to see a screenshot of Chris’s mileage and points balances! You’re welcome, par!

Oh, the CNMI has plenty the tourism, including Japan tourism. The problem is it’s all publicly funded, and outbound. Is the MVA even interested in changing that?


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

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