And-gay Lab-gray?

Posted on Aug 23 2019

Before we get started I want to introduce a new monthly feature for Sour Grapes readers. As you likely know, Public Law 18-1 made it mandatory by law for the Finance Department to remit to the Marianas Visitors Authority 80% of the hotel tax collected within 20 days of receipt. Here then is the monthly update of the status of obeying that law: Balance unpaid to MVA as of today is $5.35 million. Monthly hotel tax collections received by Finance but not paid to MVA and now past due are March, April, May, June and July. Soon August.

Marpi parks

Rep. Roman Benavente and freshman Rep. Sheila Babauta have proposed a law to take five well-known Marpi historic sites away from the Department of Public Lands and deed them over to the Department of Lands and Natural Resources and be administered by the same as parks. The Grotto, Banzai Cliff, Bird Island, Kalabera Cave, the Last Command Post, and Suicide Cliff are to be stripped from DPL if this measure becomes law. Or more land, depending on the boundaries House Bill 21-72 sets.

According to the DLNR Parks and Recreation Division official website, “jurisdiction” already links all five of these under DLNR, along with eight other tourist sites and a lot of other recreation areas and public beaches.

Before an important step like stripping the land from the protection of DPL, whose job it is to protect public lands and give it over—no, deed it over—to DLNR/P&R, wouldn’t you think that a series of public hearings should be held? There are a number of questions that should be answered and input sought from the citizens who are the ultimate owners of public lands.

As an example, would it not be better if private concessionaires operated these sites much as is done in our most important site, Managaha? All are historically significant and are major tourist attractions as well. Managaha = perfect and clean. Marpi sites = often unkempt and unmowed. Same tourists though.

Another issue is the ability of DLNR/P&R to actually do this job. Do they have the money, the personnel or the expertise to be public park administrators?

Here is another, even more troubling question that comes to mind: According to Rep. Benavente, who pointed out in an interview, “The tourist sites in Marpi are some of the most significant and beloved natural landmarks in the entire CNMI.”

“They are a source of tremendous pride and have provided locals and tourists with cherished memories and world-class experiences.”

“But, right now, these tourist attractions face ever-increasing threats.”

“Mother Nature’s gifts are being used and, in some cases, abused. We can no longer afford to maintain the status quo of unmitigated pollution and irreparable harm.”

If ever increasing threats are occurring, and if the sites are being abused, and if unmitigated pollution and irreparable harm are all occurring while these sites are currently under the watch and jurisdiction of Tony Benavente’s DLNR, what magical change should we expect when they own the land outright! Note that Tony, when a representative himself, tried to get this same turn-over-to-DLNR legislation passed. Odd coincidence.

Another question comes to mind: Rep. Sheila Babauta said, “There is a need to empower DLNR so it can protect the Marpi landmarks and ensure that future generations will enjoy the island’s natural beauty.” Sounds warm and cuddly but what protection can DLNR provide once the land is removed from under the strict scrutiny of DPL’s constitutional mandate and Covenant provisions? Land grab?

I have a lot more questions and I’m sure hundreds of others, like NMD’s, have an even greater stake in it than I do and will want to comment publically and loudly prior to a step like selling off protected lands to DLNR.

Public hearings in the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center and other accessible venues are a must, right, Sheila and Roman?

Charter opportunity

You probably know that Skymark Airlines is making non-stop flights to Saipan from Japan again. Some were held in March and April, now some more are scheduled in August (now) and a few more (six) will be flown next month (September). What you may not know is that these are charter flights, not regularly scheduled flights that JAL, NW Orient, and Delta used to provide daily, year-round, from Japan.

What that means is these are temporary short-term flights, neither permanent nor scheduled into the future beyond the half-dozen flights to be flown in September. You may also not know that airline companies usually want to be subsidized with cash, lots of cash, and discounts on airport fees and taxes if they are to fly to a destination. Skymark is no exception. It will take millions of U.S. dollars to fly the charters, not to mention talking them into flying regularly scheduled daily flights here.

What this also means is we have a last-ditch chance to revive our Japanese tourism market. What happens in the future with respect to Japanese visitors depends on how these few that will arrive on these charter flights are treated, whether they like what they see, what the comparative value per Yen spent is compared to other destinations they might choose to go to, and whether MVA pays the bills on time for the extensive, multimillion-dollar promotions and the fees to agents that are booking these charter flight seats. There are some other factors, most of which relate to customer experience at the destination, but these are the major ones that will determine whether or not there is a Japanese market in the future.

If you don’t care one way or another, doing nothing will work out fine for you. If you want to see the return of the Japanese tourism industry to these shores beyond the paltry 3% market share it now enjoys, then you should look to see what you can do to help make that happen. You don’t have much time. While Skymark may be induced to fly regular daily flights “later,” there is no agreement in place and they will make their decision on whether or not they think they can fill those seats and make that Saipan/Japan route profitable. They are a business. That is all they care about. If they don’t make a profit for their shareholders on this route, those shareholders will clamor for Skymark to fly somewhere else where the money is flowing. This really is our last chance for the foreseeable future and even this small step took years of effort and lots of money. Tell your governor that MVA needs its money. Pay up. According to the latest figures, Finance owes MVA $5.35 million ($5,350,000) and is past due since March.

If you own a business, cater to them, advertise to them, offer specials and show them that you really appreciate their business. If you see tourists on the street, smile, wave, be helpful, courteous and polite. Invite them to your village fiesta or, better yet, to your BBQ with family by the beach. Speak a few words of their language. Clean Saipan up and keep it clean and maintained. Do what you can do. Time is short.

No air seats, no butts. No butts, no wallets. You can figure out the rest for yourself.

Thanks for reading Sour Grapes!

“The local park always leave their sprinklers on, which is a little bit annoying. It’s a source of constant irrigation.” 

“Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”
—Japanese expression

Note: In case you didn’t get this column’s title, that’s pig Latin for “land grab.”

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