Saipan can be as brilliant as Taylor Swift

By Mabel Doge Luhan

My previous article, about weed, weddings, and Amazon (sort of like Wein, Weib, und Gesang) was even more popular than I’d hoped for! In fact, my footman reports zero rocks thrown through my vomitorium’s stained-glass window since the column’s publication! Thanks to that, my footman reported his 3D (Donuts, Daiquiris, and Dick) campaign to be a roaring success!

How many rocks are normally thrown through my vomitorium’s beautiful stained glass in one night? Does that really matter, when we have a success to celebrate? It’s just like Bryan Manabat’s April 5 article (“DPS: 4Ds Prevention Campaign a success”), isn’t it? Announcing that the campaign was “a success” because of “zero fatalities or serious injuries during the holidays” — without mentioning how many fatalities we had in that period before the campaign, or even what “the holidays” means. Well, we can’t expect too much from the Variety. They must be in the midst of decorating their office and planning festivities. After all, it’s only a week until Hitler’s birthday!

I, on the other hand, prefer to think of April 20th as the day of Indian hay. You know, bambalacha! That evil, evil herb that I hope all our tourists start smoking — so that even a Bryan Manabat article becomes downright interesting!

It’s not just marihuana I want to suggest for tourism, though. I have another idea. Maybe I’m full of beans as usual, but hear me out!

For political reasons and geo-cultural sensitivities, the Marianas Visitors Authority is called exactly that: the Marianas Visitors Authority. And the place it promotes is painstakingly, even awkwardly, always referred to as the Marianas.

But if you’ve eavesdropped on as many tourists as I have, there’s one thing clear: none of them talk about or are excited about “the Marianas.” The only word they know — the brand they embrace — is “Saipan.” Saipan is enshrined in Korean, Chinese, and especially Japanese popular culture and memory. Every Korean and Japanese young couple at least knows the possibility of honeymooning in Saipan. Even Banana Yoshimoto swoons over Saipan in her novels!

Yes, Saipan. No one in Japan, Korea, China, or Hong Kong has ever heard of “the Marianas.”

So why are we fighting against the tide by pretending that our tourism promotions are for Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and maybe even the Northern Islands, equally? Yes, I know: we have a Senate, and we have a lot of political pull from Rota and especially Tinian. And it’s stepping on toes whenever something is only for Saipan and not for Tinian and Rota.

But look: Nobody’s interested in coming to Tinian or Rota. That’s just how it is. There’s not much there for them, transportation is iffy, and so on and so forth. And there’s just no brand power to “Marianas,” “Tinian,” or “Rota.” It’s not fair — but marketing, advertising, and sales are never fair.

So why don’t we sell tourists what we know sells? Saipan. Not “The Marianas.” And not the silly attempts to lose all credibility with tourists by telling them that Tinian is “energetic” or Rota is “romantic.”

I fully understand the political exigencies that lead us to treating the islands “equally.” But it’s not working. Nobody’s coming.

And we can either stick with a situation of nobody coming to any of our islands, or at least get some people coming to Saipan — which already has some brand recognition. Maybe some of them will also hop over to Tinian or Rota, or Tinian or Rota might just dip into the tax revenue from Saipan. Whatever. That’s none of my concern here. The important thing is by promoting Saipan — the same Saipan that their friends talk about and is mentioned on social media and in the popular memory — we have a much better chance of convincing people to come here than by pitching them “The Marianas” — which they’ve never heard of.

American singer Taylor Swift performs at her concert in Shanghai, China, 30 May 2014. (Kandit purchased rights to use this photo from

MVA flew to Japan for the — oops, coincidentally at the same time as the — Taylor Swift concert. Have you ever noticed how tight Taytay’s marketing is? Taylor Swift is an absolute master class in marketing and branding.

And guess what. Taytay has backup singers. Backup musicians. Studio session musicians. She has an entire organization and entourage. But the brand is just Taylor Swift. It’s not Taylor Swift And Some Backup Singers And Session Musicians Because We Can’t Make Them Lose Face. It’s just Taylor Swift — because everybody understands that when the bit players (the backup singers, the session musicians, Tinian and Rota) take a back seat in the public eye, they’re actually creating a bigger, juicier money pie for everyone to later share.

Ever seen ads for Bali? Most people seeing those ads — indeed, most visitors to Bali — don’t even know that Bali is in Indonesia.

How about the ads for Las Vegas? Do they say “Las Vegas, and Clark County, and also the rest of Nevada”?

And so on.

We need to do the same. And our successful brand is Saipan. Not some politically created brand like “The Marianas.” Of course, all those other marketing campaigns were created by marketing professionals, not by political poodles.

Along the same lines, lay off on trying to pitch our tourists our unique ancestral cultures. It’s a feel-good move, for sure. We like to pretend that the whole world comes here to see latte stones and other pieces of Chamorro and Carolinian culture. But it doesn’t work. Very, very few tourists are interested in that stuff. And we should stop pretending otherwise — even if that means giving up on the feel-good aspects of pretending the whole world is coming to see the story of our culture. No, the whole world is coming here for beaches, views, and if we get our tusches in gear, for weddings, weed, and Amazon.

Chris and the rest of MVA, you’ve certainly been on your share of vacations. In Australia, how interested were you in studying aboriginal cultures? In Langkawi, did you rip yourself away from the PRIVATE PLUNGE POOL to study ancient Malay boat-making? In Korea, were you tracking down indigenous tribes, or FRESH LOBSTER? I think we know the answer. And regular tourists are the same as you.

Again. It’s not a choice between tourists coming here for what they want or coming here for what we want. We forget that tourists don’t have to come here, and have all the other choices in the world. The choice is between coming here for what they want, and them not coming here at all.

So let’s sell them Saipan. And let’s sell them beaches, marine fun, and yes, pot, gay weddings, and online shopping. Because that’s what our visitors actually want, even if it’s not what our politicians want them to want.


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


  • They call me Joe

      04/15/2024 at 5:01 PM

    Ahhh, more Mabel. In some respects you are spot on, but what’s the real reason why it’s now referred to as the Marianas and not Saipan in the promotions? (ehh, excuse me when I said “promotions”, I meant size 13 shitkicker marketing). Made me think back to a time when the lawyers were really busy sorting out those really important issues in the CNMI, like the fight over royalties and or copyright claims to the “Saipanda” mascot? My memory is foggy, but for some reason me thinks part of the answer to your commentary revolves around to a blast from the past and the entire “Saipanda” debacle. I would have to dig deep, but I believe it involved the MVA. Who knows, maybe my conspiracy dial needs to be turned down a bit, but as the old saying goes – just follow the money (or lack thereof). Regardless, I agree with you on your latest observation (not that it will change anything in the CNMI). By the way, the “Saipanda” debacle is an interesting read, including how much money (large amounts) was wasted (my opinion) in hiring a marketing firm in Japan (going off my memory) to create “Saipanda”, and then the realization that it actually sucked, and then the fight over the royalties to the name and merchandise surrounding the name when it was finally decided to kill it because of the negativity. I think after that, anything synonynmous with the word “Saipan” related to “tourism” was considere.d taboo? (speculation on my part, but I think there was some legal action involved)

    Regardless, Mabel gets a “marketing” high five for recognizing that the MVA and size 13 shitkickers seems to only understand “Rinse & Repeat” and how to blow through OPM (other peoples money) as they issue horse apple press releases while enjoying the good life at taxpayer expense (must have learned it from Kilili).
    My opinion.

    P.S. – For those that are curious as to what “size 13 shitkickers” are, it’s a reference to a certain MVA individual’s choice in shoe fashion. Or as Nancy Sinatra would have said (back in Mabel’s time) – these boots are made for walking (or in this case, for flying on the taxpayer dime).

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