About a year after his visit to the CNMI to do a video series on the Northern Islands, the visit of YouTube star Robert Arrington still raises the hackles of Rep. Edwin Propst (D-Saipan), who grilled Marianas Visitors Authority officials last week about that trip, essentially asking, “What has that gotten the CNMI?’
Appearing before the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the MVA’s budget, MVA managing director Priscilla M. Iakopo pointed out that the CNMI government spent a total of $49,800—for transportation, meals, and supplies—for Arrington and his team’s trip to the Northern Islands, while the exposure value for that is valued at $644 million, using industry standard calculation.
Iakopo said the tour, which falls under what MVA calls a familiarization trip, resulted in a total of 20 videos for Arrington’s YouTube channel, Deer Meat For Dinner, and amassed 18.4 million views. Among the Northern Islands that Arrington and his team visited were Pagan and Maug.
As for Propst’s question whether the trip resulted in any tourists that came to the CNMI as a result of those videos, Iakopo pointed out that there was a COVID-19 pandemic at the time and nobody was traveling. There were no airlines and the CNMI had no international flights during that time as well.
“So there were no visitors that came in during that time, or even after the Deer Meat for Dinner fam tour was completed,” she said.
But, like any other tourism industry agency, Iakopo it was very important that “we provide virtual experiences and a lot of destinations were being creative in how we can provide that.” She said it’s very important that they continue to promote the CNMI and very be very creative.
Iakopo mentioned that Deer Meat for Dinner was a promotional media exposure on how MVA can promote tourism in the CNMI. “And it’s because when we say about the CNMI it’s not just Saipan, Tinian, and Rota. We want to extend to the Northern Islands and that’s also to provide eco-tourism [and] sports tourism,” she said.
Iakopo underscored the need to expand CNMI’s market by promoting every little bit that the CNMI has, especially when competing with other beach destinations.
She said they did receive inquiries from professionals and business investors after the Northern Islands videos aired. “And they also mentioned that once the slowdown of COVID ends, they’re really looking forward to how we can help them come and visit the Marianas,” she said.
Iakopo said in addition to that, Deer Meat for Dinner was a U.S. media familiarization tour that was targeting the U.S. market. “It’s important for us to expand. We cannot depend on just Japan, Korea, and China,” she pointed out.
Propst said there was nothing to restrict anybody from coming here to visit if they’re Americans. “Did anybody come out after that trip to this day because of those videos?” he asked.
Iakopo replied no one came because even at that time there was no COVID-19 vaccines, and nobody knew anything about the COVID situation.
When he asked Iakopo if she is going to support a similar venture in the future, MVA board chair Viola Alepuyo responded, saying every fam tour that’s presented to MVA is brought to the board for approval. Alepuyo said when the situation arises, a request is made, then the board will entertain that request and make a decision. “I think that it’s unfair for Miss Iakopo to be put on the spot to make [her] respond to your question because she does not have the authority to approve it,” the chair told Propst.
Alepuyo said that when a request is made to the MVA board, that request is vetted or scrutinized like all other requests, and the decision will be made.
Then-MVA chair Marian Aldan-Pierce stated last year that the money that MVA spent for what Arrington had been producing “is a drop in the bucket.” She said the quality of the footage is great and it showcases not just the unique qualities of the islands Arrington has visited but how fun off-the-grid living is and can be.
She said although she does not anticipate an immediate increase in tourism to the Northern Islands, these footages will act as a teaser.
Aldan-Pierce said it’s unfortunate that the promotion has received some negative attention instead of people looking at the positive contribution that the promotion could have.
Arrington’s YouTube channel, Deer Meat for Dinner, has 850,000 subscribers. It is popular among hunters, fishermen, and other people who love off-the-grid adventures.