MVA parties at 5-star hotel with our money while real ad agencies can get us those tourists

By Mabel Doge Luhan

Oh, how I love to party! I believe it was MC Ride, or maybe William McKinley, who told me that nobody brings a party like Mabel brings a party! It’s even better if somebody else is paying!

The Marianas Visitors Authority sent out a press release (“MVA holds 2024 new year seminar in Korea”) gloating about what a great party they just had!

“Over 70 travel trade partners” were invited, “to review the successes of 2023.” What a review it must’ve been! Businesses are shutting down, salaries are not being paid, and even the CNMI government is laying people off and cutting hours. Of course, that’s for those of us here in the CNMI — things are much better in Korea and among the MVA leadership, so it makes sense that they had a big celebration on our dime!

[Photo and caption taken from Marianas Visitors Authority news release issued January 31, 2024:] Marianas Visitors Authority (MVA) Board Chairwoman Gloria Cavanagh (back row, second right), MVA Board Member Jamika Taijeron (back row, second left), MVA Deputy Managing Director Judy Torres (back, left) and management and staff at the MVA New Year Seminar on Jan. 18, 2024, in Seoul, Korea. Over 70 representatives of travel agencies, airlines, media, and other travel trade partners attended the event.

It seems about ten MVA staff went to Seoul, based on the photo. They certainly do know a lot about travel — their own travel — because they chose the finest hotel in town! They held their event at the five-star JW Marriott.

Room rates? Oh if you have to ask… but alright, according to Google, the room rates are around $305 per night, plus tax of course, so around $350 per night including tax. Times how many people, and how many nights? But why not, right? You deserve it, MVA! And we’re paying.

Let’s learn a little bit more about the hotel:

“JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul immerses you in 5-star luxury the moment you arrive in Seoul, South Korea. Created with the sophisticated traveler in mind…”

Photo from the J.W. Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul website

Well, yes, yes, the sophisticated traveler in mind: this is exactly the right hotel for our MVA globetrotters! It must have been quite refreshing to finally get away from the unpleasant reality of the CNMI. Have you seen how many people in Koblerville don’t even have power? Whew! Good thing they have government employees like you to enjoy five-star luxury ON THEIR BEHALF!

And we certainly wouldn’t want our MVA representatives to go hungry!

The hotel restaurant’s signature dish is FRESH lobster tail!

Photo from the J.W. Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul website

Certainly better than standing in line for canned food at Empty Vessel or for free Saturday lunch from the Salvation Army van, isn’t it? Oh, but that’s for the regular folks, not for MVA employees and their “over 70 travel trade partners.”

Even some folks from the US embassy were invited! Because it’s a great photo op. They have nothing to do with sending Korean tourists to Saipan, but who cares! It’s not as if the MVA crew paid for their meals personally.

And how much did those meals cost — for “over 70 travel trade partners,” the MVA crew, the embassy friends, and anyone else who showed up? I’d love to hear the detailed figures from MVA, but based on PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE, a decent dinner at that JW Marriott will run you $200 a person. That’s actually quite cheap, considering that we’re paying $300+ a night for all those rooms! But don’t forget to add in all the other costs for this party “seminar,” such as the venue, the staff, the projectors, and so on. And the giveaways! We even had giveaways! Our schools are falling apart, but we had giveaways!

Screenshot from the J.W. Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul website

I would be willing to bet my one good toenail (the one without fungus) that MVA spent at the very least $20,000 on that one-night party, and there wasn’t even any cocaine! Add to that $20,000 for the party maybe $20,000 on airfare to Korea, $10,000 on ground transportation and per diems, and maybe $15,000 on hotel rooms. This is all my estimation, but I’d love to see the numbers if they’re different from this.

And what’s the justification, MVA? Not some vague malarkey about “encouraging relationships” or “advancing partnerships.” Look — when the JW Marriott gave you a bill, they expected you to pay the bill, not give them vague stories about your “relationship” or “partnership” with them, right? So we, the people of the CNMI, are asking you the same question. What are the actual, tangible benefits to the CNMI government of you taking this trip and holding this party in Korea?

And no, “good relationships” aren’t a direct, tangible benefit. Neither is “exposure” and those entirely fictional numbers of “exposure value” that you throw around. Even vague promises of “more tourists” aren’t really a benefit. We, the people of the CNMI, are not an airline and we don’t make a profit from each person who arrives in the CNMI. It’s great for the airlines that the MVA has “load factors and ticket sales” in mind for the Korean airlines, but that doesn’t do anything for us.

Not only do you have to tell us what the benefit is, but you have to show us that the benefit exceeds the amount of money you spent on this party. Not only that, but you have to show us that this was the most cost-effective way to achieve that benefit. That every single person who went on this trip and who was invited to this party is providing definite, tangible, immediate benefit to the CNMI.

Because when you get your paycheck from MVA, you want cash in your account, now, today. Not a story about exposure or building good relationships. You should do the same for the people of the CNMI as we do for you — by paying you (and your travel bills) in real cash, not in stories.

When our own people are suffering and our own infrastructure is crumbling, why are we hosting five-star dinner parties for Korean businesspeople? Why are we sending ten of our people there to those parties? And how much are we paying for the “MVA Korea office” — and whose achakmas work there?

In short, why are we paying the MVA to spend our money? And a lot of it. Don’t worry about those Korean tour companies and airlines. They’re doing fine without our free meals. And tourists will choose to come to the CNMI because of what we can offer them — not because of the party we threw for some airline and hotel executives.

If we want to advertise the Marianas, we can do what every legitimate government and business does: request competitive proposals for an advertising agency to run an ongoing ad campaign. Fine. Normal. Deal with legitimate ad agencies (in Korea, most likely Chiel or its subsidiaries) who don’t hire anyone’s relatives and don’t pay kickbacks. And don’t hire an office full of people in Saipan — plus another office full of people in Korea — plus all their travel costs — to be the conduits of that money from the CNMI government to the ad agency.

And let’s look at real, tangible benefits when we try to “promote tourism.” Because our kids need real, tangible meals, and our beaches need real, tangible toilet paper. Not photo ops, handshakes, and vague “opportunities,” and not being the airlines’ and hotels’ sycophants.

But tell us: how was the FRESH lobster tail?


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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