For a start, they have to be safe. And they have to pay taxes.
At least those two things must be complied with by bed-and-breakfast establishments in the CNMI, according to Marianas Visitors Authority board chair Marian Aldan-Pierce yesterday.
She stressed that the MVA considers these informal lodging homes for tourists—called bed-and-breakfast, or B&B—as a welcome addition to the tourism industry, but they must comply with all laws that are imposed on hotels.
In light of last week’s fatal gas explosion at an alleged B&B, Aldan-Pierce said these establishments are especially needed when hotels are operating at near capacity or full capacity.
“Destinations globally welcome the addition of B&Bs as they enhance the experience of tourists who would rather stay in the comfort of a home than be in a traditional hotel environment,” she said.
However, these B&Bs must comply with all laws, most importantly those that deal with the safety of visitors and the payment of all appropriate taxes, Aldan-Pierce said.
She pointed out that when the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands agreed to an increase in the hotel occupancy tax—from 10 percent to 15 percent—several years ago, a certain percentage was set aside for the Department of Finance to enforce the taxation law.
Enforcement is key, she said, to ensure a level playing field to all providers of transient rooms, and the tourism industry wanted to appropriately fund the agency to ensure that this is done.
Yet “how many enforcement officers have been hired by Finance with the funding it has received from this source since the law was implemented over five years ago? And what progress have they made in this area?” Aldan-Pierce asked.
Negative incidents involving visitors or residents working in the tourism industry adversely affect the image that the MVA goes overseas to sell. The gas explosion at a B&B establishment last week led to the death of Ramoncito Apostol. Separately, a guest drowned at the same establishment in 2017.
Aldan-Pierce said it behooves all those in the tourism industry and enforcement agencies to diligently do what they are mandated to do to prevent accidents.
“Maybe the law needs to be revisited to share some of the funding that goes to Finance to the fire and health departments to ensure compliance with their regulations also,” she added.
Apostol, 55, died last Monday after a kitchen explosion at his workplace at Sea Fun Villa in San Vicente last Saturday morning. A Commonwealth Health Center doctor determined that Apostol went into cardiac arrest due to infection caused by extensive burns to his body, coupled with his history of diabetes.
In September 2017, Dan Liu, a popular cosplay model in China, drowned in Sea Fun Villa’s swimming pool.