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By Lindablue F. Romero

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (December 28, 1998 - Saipan Tribune)---Visitor arrivals for the month of November declined 24 percent or a total of 39,301 compared to the same period in the previous fiscal year as the financial crisis in Asia continue to shatter the island's tourism economy.

Of the various markets, only arrivals from Hong Kong provided a positive sign amid the regional crisis as it jumped 18 percent. Hong Kong is one of the alternative markets which the Marianas Visitors Authority has been eyeing to develop with the continuous drop in tourist arrivals from Japan and Korea.

MVA has been planning to establish an office there to increase the CNMI's market share and rescue the financially troubled Tinian Dynasty Hotel & Casino by attracting more players visit the multi million complex.

While arrivals from various markets still registered a double-digit drop in November, the overall record showed a slight improvement compared to October, the beginning of fiscal year 1999.

Japan, the island's main source of tourists, dropped 16 percent even as the Marianas Visitors Authority seek to find ways on how to convince more air carriers to service the CNMI.

Tourism officials expect the Japanese market to show further improvement in December as six chartered flights from Nagoya using a Boeing 767 aircraft on the island arrived with full capacity to boost the sagging half-a-billion-dollar tourism industry.

In a move to save its huge investment in the Northern Marianas, JAL has independently carried out its marketing campaign to lure more Japanese to visit the island. But the cutthroat competition in the travel industry and the currency crisis in Asia are two big obstacles which tourism officials have to hurdle to recapture the CNMI's lost market share.

Travel agents have expressed apprehension over the growing popularity of Korea as a shopping destination for Japanese tourists because of the high purchasing value of the yen against the Korean won.

In January 1999, JAL will further launch an aggressive campaign dubbed as "JAL-Saipan Campaign," targeting some 12,000 Japanese to come here within the three-month promotional period.

Although Taiwanese arrivals declined 25 percent, MVA board chairman Dave M. Sablan expects the market to improve as executives from Far Eastern Air Transport pledged in a recent meeting with the Aviation Task Force to provide its first chartered service in April 1999.

Korea, the second biggest market, plunged 58 percent or a total of 3,529. During the honeymoon season, Korean arrivals slightly increased as Asiana Airlines provided additional flights from Seoul to Saipan specifically to accommodate the influx of visitors.


By Nick Legaspi

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (December 29, 1998 - CNMI News On-Line)---This year is bad, but the year 1999 could be the worse for hotels in the Northern Marianas.

This was learned in an interview with Ronald D. Sablan, president of the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands yesterday.

"Historically, December is a better month so right now people are feeling okay but we're still in the same slow track," Sablan said. "At the same time we're trying to prepare possibly for the worst year next year. We're concerned about it, based on our statistics. We look at next year to be a little bit worse than this year."

Sablan noted, however, that the hotels could see the beginning of a turnaround before the end of 1999.

"We're averaging in the high 50s for 1998; in 1999 probably the same or a little less," he said. "We're hopeful that something will turn around. As you know, our situation right now is controlled outside the Commonwealth so, hopefully, something happens outside on the positive side and we'll see a better year next year."

The hotel association has initiated the "Visit the Marianas '99" campaign to attract more tourists to the CNMI.

In addition to supporting the private sector initiative the Marianas Visitors Authority is conducting its own promotion activities to stop the decline in visitor arrivals.

The MVA Chairman is planning to meet with Labor and Immigration Secretary Mark D. Zachares to lift the ban on the entry of visitors and workers from the People's Republic of China.

Zachares imposed the ban after the refusal by the Chinese government to accept the return of their citizens who were deported from the CNMI.

In a related development, an ad hoc committee of the MVA board of directors has selected a Japanese company to be MVA's advertising arm.

A total of 35 companies, mostly from Japan, responded to MVA's request for proposals and the list was reduced to the top seven after a review by the committee.

Committee Chairman Bart Jackson told the board yesterday that the name of the company recommended to the board would be disclosed after a final check on the company's background.

MVA has a $2.1 million budget for advertising for fiscal year 1999.

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