TDI stresses equal opportunities for small tour operators


Top Development Inc. welcomes the new tour guide/operator certification program that’s now in the works by the Marianas Visitors Authority but would like policies and regulations that are fair to everyone, whether operators are “big or small,” said executive vice president and chief operating officer Alfred Ho yesterday.

Ho agrees with the need for regulations but stressed that they should not favor bigger companies who may “monopolize” the industry. He said even smaller companies help the economy and don’t take away from it as long as they are following the law and pay taxes.

“Just because you have a lot of money and monopolize the business does not mean you should have first priority,” he added.

In a meeting last month, MVA board members cited how smaller “mom-and-pop” tour operators were popping up all over the islands. Stressing “quality over quantity,” board member Jerry Tan said 10 companies with capital, insurance, and good hiring practices would be better than 50 “mom-and-pop” companies where 10 are good and 40 are bad.

“We should put a lot of teeth [in the regulations],” Tan suggested then. “It may sound kind of tough but keep in mind we want quality people behind this industry.”

Ho, for his part, believes that the nature of supply and demand is “tricky.” The islands should not limit the number of tour operators, guides, or agents, he said.

For example, so far the island has 10 charter flights from China—four from Shanghai, four from Beijing, and two from Guangzhou, he said. With hotels and a casino in development this number may have to change.

“We’re talking about multi-billion of dollars…Later on there may be 20, 30, or 40 [companies],” he said. “When the market is open is not the time to invite somebody to do business. It would be too late,” he said.

Ho hopes that regulations would not limit operators based on their draw of tourists. He said tourists chartered to Saipan by bigger companies reserve the right to seek these “mom-and-pop” companies if they so choose, even if another more established company is promoted beforehand.

“When a customer comes to Saipan, they have the right not to choose the service offered by the travel agent,” he said. He believes smaller tour operators would keep prices fair.

“When we’re doing business, we involve a lot of overhead, but smaller business don’t. Mom-and-pop stores save a lot of money. This causes prices to drop,” he said.

Ho said MVA has yet to reach out to TDI to discuss these policies.

Masaru Sunaga, Pacific Micronesia Tours assistant general manager, pointed out that the new tour operator/guide program is now law and it “has to be done” to improve the industry.

“We must do this to ensure higher-quality service for our islands tourists,” he said.

He confirmed that as president of the Japan Saipan Travel Association, he has met with MVA to discuss the tour guide manual that’s now in the works.

He said one problem for tour guides is that there is “no official information” on, say, the height of Mt. Tapochao. Some tour guides have been providing varying heights to tourists, he said.

“Every guide must guide with the same information,” he said.

On TDI’s part, Ho would like to know more about the certificate program’s language requirements. Public Law 18-58 would ensure minimum proficiency in the English language and successful training on the CNMI’s history, culture, and scenic attractions under the certificate program.

Ho is concerned with how operators would be educated. For example, whether they would be educated in their “hometown Chinese” or in English.

He believes it would be “very difficult to have Chinese tour guides” become fluent in English. He suggests that tour guides be educated in Chinese, mainly because “no matter how good his English is,” he said, a tour guide for Chinese tourists would speak to these tourists in Chinese.

Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at dennis_chan@saipantribune.com.

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