A Visit to Saipan.

Somewhere back around 1980, my fledgling marketing agency had acquired the Office of Tourism for American Samoa as a client. That gave my partner and me the idea that we should look for business farther out in the Pacific.  And so I made sales calls on tourism officials on Tonga, Guam, Saipan and Pohnpei . . . all destinations that are a considerable distance from Honolulu and even farther from the U.S. mainland.

It was upsetting and, in an odd way, interesting that I heard the term “talking head” in every one of those destinations. It’s a derogatory expression that usually applies to people from the mainland U.S. who appear one day with a slick sales pitch, sellingl them some kind of product or service that never delivers real results. To be referred to as a “talking head” was roughly akin to being called a con man.

(I never felt anything but genuine friendliness from any of the people I met. After considerable thought, it was possibly because I was coming to them from another island. I’ve always believed that island people tend to look out for each other.)

One of my meetings was with a man whose job it was to promote tourism to Saipan, an island that was occupied by the Japanese in World War 2 and the site of an invasion by U.S. forces in June of 1944.

We met in his office which was literally inside a bunker with thick, rusting steel walls. It was left over from the war and, in fact, there were still a number of reminders of that terrible invasion scattered around the island—mostly the wrecked remains of armored vehicles and artillery pieces. 

Halfway through our meeting, we were interrupted by a group of a dozen American travel agents who were on what is known as a “fam trip” . . . meaning a familiarization trip. They were there to consider Saipan as a possible destination for their clients.

Since I was there to talk about promoting Saipan to travel professionals, the director motioned for me to stay while he briefed this gaggle of mostly female travel agents.

When he had finished his welcoming remarks and the group was getting ready to leave, one of the ladies remarked that Saipan was such a beautiful island, it was a shame that the Office of Tourism had to be located in such an ugly building with walls of rusty foot-thick reinforced steel. “You should get rid of this ugly building and get a nicer office,” she said cheerfully.

The director stood and said, rather wearily I thought, “Madam, the United States Navy tried very hard for three days to get rid of this little office. I’m afraid we’re stuck with it.”