Tour operators in the Commonwealth make the industry roll, being at the forefront of showing tourists what they originally saw on postcards, websites, and blogs about the beauty of the CNMI.
The CNMI’s tourist sites are the core products of a tour operator’s business. To help preserve, maintain, and achieve environmental sustainability, some of them simply do it by cleaning.
According to Saipan Adventures operations manager Jonathan Kapileo, every tour activity that they have is coupled with a cleanup campaign.
The company has been operating for two years now, doing hiking, biking, snorkeling, off-roading, and star watching. Its market is a mix of Japanese and Korean tourists.
“We tour them around the island every single day,” he said. “As much as possible, our operation is all about tourists exploring, discovering, and enjoying the islands. It’s all fun but we also integrate environmental awareness and sustainability by picking up trash when we see it.”
Encouraging tourists to be proactive and environmentally aware is what makes their tour packages extra fun. To date, they have been cleaning tour sites such as the Grotto, Forbidden Island, and Obyan Beach, to name a few.
“We appreciate that we are able to use and share these sites. We try to return the favor by keeping it clean, helping maintain the place,” he said. “Aside from picking up trash, we also put up signs after getting permission from government agencies like the Marianas Visitors Authority and Department of Public Lands. We do the cleanup drives when we have customers and even without, when our schedule allows us to.”
MVA managing director Chris Concepcion is very pleased that tour operators practice what they have learned in the guide certification program.
“When the MVA launched our tour guide certification program last year in partnership with Northern Marianas College, one of our main goals was to educate all guides on environmental issues, to instill pride and a sense of ownership in the work that they do to inform visitors,” he said.
“We are very pleased to see partners like Saipan Adventures, Tasi Tours, the Japan-Saipan Travel Association and others take an active role in beautifying the CNMI. This is only the beginning and we expect to see more participation from other tourism stakeholders in the future as we encourage them to be more active in cleaning up our sites and ensuring our guests are educated,” he added
MVA also has an ongoing program called “Beautify My Marianas.”
“The program grants $100 for every mile of roadside cleaned or $100 for every tourist site cleaned and this is open to all residents and tourists in the CNMI. It has become popular lately with student organizations and church groups,” he said.
“It’s a bit dismaying that we have this type of program to control the litter situation when we shouldn’t have to. I hope everybody learns to clean up after ourselves and let law enforcement officials do their job to aggressively enforce anti-litter laws so that the public will feel the pain when they litter,” he added.
Kapileo said the patience and work put into cleaning the sites result in bigger rewards.
“We are very proud of the small things we do that yield big rewards for us and especially for the environment. When we started, we put ash trays and no smoking signs in one of the sites, which had hundreds of cigarette filters lying on the ground. When we came back the next day, we counted the cigarette filters and it was down to just 20,” he said.
“Assigning designated areas for people who smoke cigarette made a good impact. There are kids who go on tour and walk around the sites and we don’t want them to inhale the smoke. Guiding visitors to designated areas helps a lot,” he added.
In voluntarily cleaning these sites, big or small deeds are considered progress.
“We tell our guests ‘what you bring in, you must take out.’ Nobody wants to visit places and swim in waters that are filled with trash,” he said. “The CNMI is a paradise and we encourage them to visit again and again but also [let them know] of the regulations in maintaining the cleanliness and beauty of the islands.”