As of Sept. 30, 2021, the amount of Hotel Occupancy Tax that the Department of Finance owes the Marianas Visitors Authority has decreased to about $1.057 million, according to MVA managing director Priscilla M. Iakopo.
In MVA’s fourth quarter report for fiscal year 2021 that the Legislature received last Friday, Iakopo disclosed that they received from Finance for that period $1 million as payment for MVA’s share in HOT that is owed.
To date, she said, MVA is reconciling with Finance’s record the remaining balance owed MVA for its share of the HOT.
As part of local law, MVA gets a share of the HOT, as remitted to it by Finance. The CNMI Budget Act of FY 2021, however, suspended earmarked funds for that fiscal year, including MVA’s entitlement in HOT.
MVA was provided an allocation of $2.19 million in the CNMI’s budget in fiscal year 2021.
As of Sept. 30, 2021, MVA spent all $2.17 million of its amended budget for fiscal year 2021 for personnel and all other others, and $888,424 of its amended budget for advertising and marketing.
It was during that period when the Tourism Resumption Investment Plan was developed through the collaborative efforts of the MVA, the administration, key travel industry stakeholders, Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., the COVID-19 Task Force, Commonwealth Ports Authority, and other partners.
TRIP was implemented to jumpstart the Marianas tourism economy to get people back to work, as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, American Rescue Plan Act, and other financial aid were anticipated to end.
After months of negotiations with the Korean government, the Travel Bubble Agreement was signed on June 30, 2021, by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres with the Korea Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Vice Minister. The agreement allows fully vaccinated CNMI residents and Korean residents to travel between the CNMI and Korea without the need to be quarantined.
“This agreement will ensure the success of the resumption the Korean visitors to the CNMI, jumpstarting our tourism industry,” Iakopo said.
The TRIP program was launched on July 1, 2021, but, according to Iakopo, it took a while for it to gain speed. She said visitor arrivals began to rapidly increase in September 2021.
Although they were provided limited funding due to the impacts of the pandemic, Iakopo they managed to organize the Hafa Adai and Tirow Summer Jam on July 31, 2021, the annual Taste of the Marianas International Food Festival and Beer Garden in August 2021, and the World Tourism Day in September 2021.
Iakopo said destination enhancement at major tourism sites remain largely suspended due to funding constraints.
She said they, however, continued their role of permitting liaison for projects of the Public-Private Partnership under the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers.
In 2021, the MVA’s Strategic Plan Toward Sustainable Tourism Industry 2021-2031 was adopted to chart priorities for the next decade.
Iakopo said the Hafa Adai and Tirow Pledge program was launched under this Strategic Plan to promote indigenous Chamorro and Carolinian culture to visitors.