Weddings, weed, and Amazon

By Mabel Doge Luhan

Life here in Saipan has been so hectic since the planeloads of Australian and Malaysian tourists started arriving! Thanks for the good work, MVA. All those five-star hotels and FRESH LOBSTER dinners we bought you are paying off! Why, some Saipan businesses are so busy with the waves of incoming Australian and Malaysian tourists that they’ve closed down to take a rest!

Say, what can we do to actually attract tourists? Since we aren’t getting many results from wining and dining airline executives and running homemade ad campaigns that belong under a refrigerator magnet?

How about, instead of coming up with meaningless and blatantly false slogans like “Energetic Tinian” and “Romantic Rota,” we focus on appealing to what travelers actually want?

I’m no travel industry professional, mind you. Unlike Chris Concepcion, I have no experience weighing suitcases and printing boarding passes. But I’m also not in the pocket of any Saipan business or political cronies, so maybe you should hear me out!

Why should tourists come to Saipan and not to, say, Langkawi (even if MVA itself prefers the latter) or Phuket or Bali? What can we realistically offer tourists that those places can’t offer? The thing that comes to mind immediately: we’re in the US (as much as some of us claim otherwise), and those other places aren’t.

One thing I have in common with Chris Concepcion, besides my enormous ego, is that I’ve traveled to quite a few US cities and stayed in quite a few hotels! And I can tell you right now what advantages our US status gives us with Asian tourists:


  1. Gay marriage

  2. Legal marijuana

  3. Online (primarily Amazon) shopping


Those are among the three favorite draws of Asian tourists traveling to the mainland US, and they could very well be helping us draw Asian tourists to Saipan. But unlike PIC, DFS, and the other tourism draws currently being thrown at prospective tourists, they aren’t big moneymakers for croneys — so MVA isn’t eager to promote them.

Let’s go through the list.


FIRST: Gay marriage

Gay marriage is currently legal in Asia only in Taiwan (and Australia and New Zealand, if you consider those Asia). Besides those places, we have a good 10% of the Asian populace who can’t get married in their home country.

Guess what else? Weddings tend to have guests staying in hotels, venue rentals, catering, and everything else that we could make money from. (Remember when a Chinese tour company was trying to hire a fake priest to officiate its weddings?)

Maybe RB Camacho could, instead of soaking in hot springs in Noboribetsu, build an actually welcoming, actually friendly website for couples — especially same-gender couples — wanting to get married? With Korean, Japanese, and traditional Chinese (Hong Kong) language available? It’s a big project, but I’m sure you can find a website builder who pays kickbacks! Or maybe you can travel to the Swiss Alps to meet with some website designer there.

Maybe MVA could openly say on its website that gay marriage is fully legal in the CNMI (most visitors don’t realize that we fully follow US law here — or at least we claim to). Maybe it could even reach out to LGBT associations in our target countries! Don’t worry; there’s FRESH LOBSTER.


SECOND: Legal marijuana

Oh, the demon weed! I, for one, prefer a puff of opium, but I certainly won’t begrudge those who partake of the sticky icky. Goodness though, it seems that a dance with Mario Juan will send you right to prison just about everywhere in Asia!

So why don’t we openly advertise to tourists that we have legal marijuana? And again, make it easily accessible to them. Openly say on the MVA website and other tourist materials that foreigners can legally buy marijuana here, and ask dispensaries to post signs in Korean, Japanese, and Chinese. I am not against a Northern Marijuana Islands logo!

Much like the case with gay marriage, we could’ve been doing this for many years now, and reeling in the tourist dollars. Of course, the right cronies weren’t in the marijuana business, and maybe there was a fear of losing face by having our island be associated with marijuana.

But there’s money to be made, especially considering how heavily taxed marijuana is. We could have marijuana lounges and dispensaries in hotels, catering to tourists wanting to get high without needing to drive anywhere or be out in public — instead of the gambling establishments that only attract local meth addicts.

Drug testing back in their home countries, you say? Oh! A boon for us. The demon weed is detectable in urine for about 3-7 days after consumption. (Comparison of Cannabinoid Concentrations in Plasma, Oral Fluid and Urine in Occasional Cannabis Smokers After Smoking Cannabis Cigarette. Marsot A, Audebert C, Attolini L, Lacarelle B, Micallef J, Blin O.  J Pharm Pharm Sci. 2016 Jul-Sep;19(3):411-422. doi: 10.18433/J3F31D.)

That gives tourists reason to stay here longer until they’ve pee-peed out all their reefer! Hotels could pitch a “detox add on” to vacation packages, with an extra week in Saipan at some discounted price, with lots of free drinking water in the room.

And some dispensaries are owned by cronies, so maybe this plan is actually feasible!


THIRD: Online (primarily Amazon) shopping

This one is the least popular with cronies! Of course they all want our beloved tourists to shop at the wildly overpriced and poorly stocked tourist stores, especially DFS. But if you’ve ever stayed at an airport hotel in the mainland US, the first thing every Asian tourist does when checking in is asking about their Amazon packages. They buy thousands of dollars of merchandise on Amazon and have it delivered to their US hotel. Yes, shopping is better and cheaper in the US than just about anywhere else in the world. And we should remind potential visitors that by coming here, they can access the wealth of US online shopping, not just the overpriced garbage in the stores that tourists are usually herded to.

The hotels, or even MVA itself, can run a special delivery address PO box for tourists’ shopping. You can give tutorials on how to sign up for an Amazon account and how long shipping to Saipan takes.

And the best part? Purchases over $1,000 are taxable on BGRT!

No, the cronies won’t like it, just as they won’t like the other proposals here. They’d rather we keep pushing tourists to the same old crap that they’re not interested in.

But we should see our comparative advantages with clear eyes. And these opportunities are obvious.


There is other stuff. The recent US military show-and-tell events at the airport could very well be advertised to tourists. Yes, the US military is cool worldwide, and all that killing-machine hardware we pay for is extremely Instagrammable!

Speaking of Instagram, we could hire some social media influencers from our target countries to showcase these aspects of the CNMI to prospective tourists. And that doesn’t require $100K to Deer Meat For Dinner, nor does it garner eight trillion gazillion dollars of “exposure value,” as MVA would claim any time it spends our money. But just a few expenditures of a few thousand dollars to a few influencers (who aren’t related to anyone at MVA and who don’t pay kickbacks) could really help our tourism. Sorry, MVA — you would be meeting with these influencers online, not traveling the world to meet with them in person to hand them a check.

Because you at MVA are working for our benefit, right? To bring us more tourists and an overall healthier economy — not to benefit your waistline and roust up business for your buddies. Right?


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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