Marianas Variety

SAIPAN, CNMI (Sept. 30) – Desecrating historic sites and robbing tourists while they’re on vacation in Saipan are indications that something is amiss. For those who are struggling to wade through the mound of statistics on these crimes — don’t bother; only a handful of bad incidents are enough to sour the foreign traveler on visiting the islands. Security is an important consideration for tourists, especially Japanese tourists, traveling abroad.

The Northern Marianas, once a popular destination for Japanese tourists, is about to suffer a huge setback in the number of visitors coming to these islands as the result of Japan Airlines scheduled pullout in a few days time. Complaints about the seedy character of Garapan, along with a lack of attractive tourist activities, coupled with other problems cited in various surveys and reports spells trouble for tourism in the commonwealth.

Recently, we reported that a Japanese Shinto shrine at the much-ballyhooed Paseo de Marianas had been vandalized and that no one among the authorities was apparently aware of this desecration of an historical and religious site. There was graffiti all over the shrine’s walls. Garbage had been dumped inside it and the place reeked of urine. Asked for comment, a Marianas Visitors Authority official said: "It’s an embarrassing situation." He added, "Here we are doing our best and spending lots of money to promote the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) only to find people being uncooperative and having no perception of the difficulty that we are facing. It appears that the CNMI is heading toward ruining the Japanese market."

He is right. This is embarrassing for the entire CNMI government. We’re not talking about a remote site here. The shrine is in downtown Garapan and it was turned into a virtual restroom without the knowledge of Historic Preservation Office, Marianas Visitors Authority, Department of Land & Natural Resources, Department of Public Safety or other government agencies.

What should be done to prevent similar incidents?

The temptation for government officials past and present is to relegate vandalism to mindless, juvenile behavior — a big nuisance factor that spurs a few more police patrols and timely press releases decrying this activity. But this, clearly, is not enough. Government offices tasked to maintain these historical sites should do their job. And they should do it consistently and competently to deter vandals, and not just in response to acts of vandalism.

Vandalism is destructive and erodes public confidence and instills fear in residents and visitors alike. Repairs and replacement of historical monuments and fixes to the defacement of public buildings and other structures are costly items. Increased security at tourist and beach sites necessitated by theft of property and vandalism is another added cost, as is the cost to the reputation of the police who are charged with prevention and enforcement of public safety.

It is often said by industry experts that tourism is a fragile business, reliant on a positive image and experience. Defacement of historic sites and theft of property from visitors sunning themselves on the beach do not put the CNMI in a favorable light. Destruction of historic property and sites is also an assault on the commonwealth’s cultural treasures, and should not be tolerated by the community.

October 6, 2005

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