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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

‘Geocaching’ may be NMI’s newest tourist attraction

(First published at the Marianas Variety)
HAVE you ever heard of the word “geocaching”? Marianas Trekking, Saipan’s adventure company says it may attract more tourists to the CNMI.
The Barracuda team composed of children who joined the Eco Camp poses at the entrance of Suicide Cliff before going on a geocaching adventure. Contributed photo
The Barracuda team composed of children who joined the Eco Camp poses at the entrance of Suicide Cliff before going on a geocaching adventure. Contributed photo

Geocaching, according to Marianas Trekking general manager Elly Stoilova, is a fun high-tech treasure hunt game in which participants use GPS to discover hidden caches.
“This game is a great motivation to get outdoors with family and friends and discover new places, as usually the caches are hidden in beautiful locations such as sightseeing spots or educational sites like those related to history, architecture, and more,” Stoilova said.
She said she has been doing research on how geocaching can boost tourism.
Stoilova said  geocaching is very popular in Japan, Korea and Guam. There are 8,424 hidden caches in Japan, 5,502 in Korea, 640 on Guam, 4 on Saipan, 3 on Tinian and 4 on Rota.
“There are close to 2 million caches hidden around the world  (1,851,666) and the total registered participants in this high-tech treasure hunting game have already reached over 5 million worldwide,” Stoilova said.
She said Marianas Trekking introduced geocaching last July 1 at Eco Camp.
Stoilova  earlier searched online for some new activities that would be interesting for children.
“I found ‘geocaching’ listed as activity in several camps and I was intrigued to learn more about it. As soon as I registered online and learned more, I was hooked to this fun idea,” Stoilova said.
She said her team, the Barracudas, searched for one of the only four hidden treasures on Saipan near Suicide Cliff and found it.
“It was our first geocaching and we were so excited about! I revisited the place where the cache is hidden and added a few bo-jo-bo dolls there for off-island visitors to take,” Stoilova said.
Stoilova said in geocaching, those who find the caches do not take them but just log that they have found them. This way each geocache can attract many hunters for years. She said  occasionally people leave tradable items there, which can be taken if replaced with other items of the same value.
One can find items in the cache that can be trackable.
“These items have their own unique number and a purpose to travel around the world, to which geocachers can contribute,” she said.
Stoilova cited as example the cache near Suicide Cliff where there is a trackable lucky clover and the goal is to visit a brewery in Dublin, Ireland, and to take picture there that shall be shared with the clover owner. She added that the family that sent this trackable around the world lives in Orange, Michigan. The trackable has travelled already over 12,000 kms.
Stoilova said that geocaching is not only for tourists but for locals too.
“Geocaching is for everyone. Tourists involved in the game will be happy to add to their logs to more caches in exotic destinations or places they haven’t been before while traveling for business or leisure. Local families can enjoy this activity as a fun outdoor activity for the entire family,” Stoilova said.
She said  she has been watching the Saipan caches and from the logs so far she saw that those finding them are Saipan tourists who have visited the island as tourists and for business purpose.
Behind the fun the treasure hunting can give to the participants, Stoilova said geocaching promotes eco-tourism and outdoor activities, educate people about nature and give them a reason to travel, explore and be happier.
Impact on Tourism
Stoilova said  geocaching is a new niche market and the CNMI is ideal for it: beautiful nature, caves, beaches, trail in the jungles, amazing sightseeing and historic spots.
“Having caches hidden in all these areas would be the next step. There are serious hunters out there looking for new places to visit. There are geocachers in Guam, Japan and Korea and I would be great to create more reasons for them to visit Saipan, Tinian and Rota,” Stoilova said.
She is planning to place a few new caches in the next months and cannot wait to see who will be the one to find them. She is also looking at presenting geocaching to the Marianas Visitors Authority if they will be interested to support geocaching tours and challenges.