- Published on Tuesday, April 09, 2013 00:00
- By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor - [email protected] - Variety News Staff
THE Northern Marianas has what it takes to develop a thriving heritage tourism industry.
In an interview with Variety, underwater archaeologist and Ships of Discovery research associate Dr. Toni L. Carrell, said, “I think that heritage tourism here is just on the cusp of starting. It hasn’t really taken off the way you might find it in other places.”
Dr. Carrell, who was on Saipan just before Easter, has vast experience in underwater archaeology and has done extensive research on shipwrecks from 1600s to WWII across the United States and in other countries.
For Dr. Carrell, heritage tourism is the fastest growing type of tourism in the world.
Variety earlier reported that in the state of Florida, heritage tourism accounts for $4.2 billion in revenues.
In the same Variety article, it was stated that based on the Univ. of Florida report, heritage preservation activities created 123,242 jobs, generated $2.78 billion in income, $5.27 billion in gross state product, $1.25 billion in total taxes, $657 million in state and local taxes, and produced $4.67 billion in in-state wealth.
Given what the Northern Marianas has to offer, Dr. Carrell believes that the CNMI has a huge potential.
“It is starting here,” she said.
Dr. Carrell told Variety that the various elements that make a thriving heritage tourism industry are here.
She pointed out that the CNMI has the ancient Chamorro and Carolonian cultures present.
She also referred to the extant WWII artifacts and historic places.
She also mentioned the underwater heritage elements.
A daughter of a WWII veteran, Dr. Carrell said the Northern Marianas, being a WWII site, has a lot to offer children of WWII veterans like her interested in getting to know their fathers and where they were during World War II.
“You’ve got my generation and my children’s generation — they want to know where their fathers were during the War. You‘ve got WWII descendants that are very interested in these sorts of things,” she said.
She told Variety, “In terms of heritage tourism, you’re certainly got the potential for better understanding of the Carolinian and Chamorro cultures — the ancient cultures. You’re got a lot of elements already in place.”
Her companion, Windward Media founding partner and head writer Veronica “Ronnie” Veerkamp agrees with Dr. Carrell, “You’ve got the goods.”
Veerkamp said heritage tourism here “is a coordinated industry that hasn’t gelled quite yet.”
She said people have a fuzzy image of what cultural tourism could be. “It just hasn’t come into sharp focus.”
Dr. Carrell recognized that the CNMI has been attracting tourists from different destinations. “You have the numbers.”
But she pointed out the lack of cultural shows. “One of the things we noticed: there are no cultural shows on the islands specifically that are Carolinian and Chamorro.”
She said, “Once that starts to happen more, and people then realize that this isn’t Polynesia, this isn’t Samoa. That will make it happen.”
Asked if infrastructure is a major stumbling block to having a thriving heritage tourism in the islands, Dr. Carrell said, “A paved road won’t make a difference.”
Veerkamp said having information available and having tour guides that are telling authentic, consistent stories are important.
“That actually helps with heritage tourism,” said Dr. Carrell.
Recalling her previous work at the National Park Service, Dr. Carrell said one of their mandates was to respond to an inquiring visitor as best they can, with the correct, accurate information.
She said they will stop whatever they are doing and respond to the visitor’s question and provide good information and be as friendly and helpful as possible.
For both Veerkamp and Dr. Carrell, to have tour guides who are knowledgeable about the sites and are friendly — “that is a huge.”
“That kind of an attitude will make a huge difference in heritage tourism,” said Dr. Carrell.