MARIANAS WANTS MORE FLIGHTS TO SAIPAN

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By Lindablue F. Romero

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (August 14, 1998 - Saipan Journal)---The Marianas Visitors Authority board will hold talks with officials of Continental Micronesia in a bid to convince the airline to provide additional direct flights from key destinations in Asia to Saipan.

According to board chairman David M. Sablan, MVA will show to Continental that there is sufficient demand for more flights in the Northern Marianas based on the number of tourists visiting the island.

"I realize that airlines must make money and we certainly support that. But they also have certain obligations to the destination they serve," said Sablan. He noted that the Commonwealth Ports Authority will not be able to recoup the huge amount of money it invested in expanding Saipan International Airport if the reduced service continues.

Continental Micronesia has been a partner of the Northern Marianas for the past 30 years in promoting the island as an ideal destination in the Pacific. However, the financial crisis in Asia has adversely affected foreign travel and forced the airline to cutback its flights from major Asian cities to CNMI.

Currently, Guam serves as the hub of Continental Micronesia, allowing other passengers to efficiently connect between markets that would otherwise not have direct service.

Continental claims that this has no negative effect on the tourism industry in the Northern Marianas since the Guam hub allows the airline to offer smooth and high frequency connections between Saipan and nine other Japanese cities. CNMI officials and tour operators on the island, however, believe otherwise.

The tourism office, Sablan said, will now take an active role in planning with airlines how they can effectively promote the Northern Marianas. In fact, he said the MVA would be willing to provide some subsidy on the airline's promotional materials. Active partnership with the airlines servicing the Northern Marianas must be maintained regardless of the visitor arrivals record, he added.

Continental officials led by president Jim Ream, met with Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio and key leaders of the Legislature to explain that their decision to cut down the airline's flights was primarily because it has been losing $2 million a month. Sablan said he will ask the governor to join him in the planned talks with airline officials.

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