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By Lindablue F. Romero

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (December 30, 1998 - Saipan Tribune)---The Marianas Visitors Authority (MVA) has asked the association of Japanese travel agents on the island to recommend to Japan Airlines that it provide Nagoya-Saipan direct service at least twice a week.

In a letter to Kiyoshi Aikawa, President of the Japan Saipan Travel Association (JSTA), MVA Board Chairman David M. Sablan said he is seeking the understanding of all the organization's members to help revitalize the tourism economy, which has been on a downturn due to the financial crisis in Asia.

The request came after MVA found out that JAL has decided to inaugurate daily direct flights from Nagoya to Guam beginning in April. There was no mention at all of any scheduled JAL Nagoya flight to Saipan.

Immediately, JSTA sent a letter to the travel agents in Nagoya Prefecture to convince JAL to fly directly to Saipan.

Aikawa also invited the travel agents in Nagoya to visit the CNMI with the launching of Visit the Marianas '99 Campaign.

Japan, the world's second biggest economy, is mired in its worst recession since World War II, as debt-ridden financial institutions scale back on lending, starving companies of cash.

Since the financial crisis began more than a year ago, visitor arrivals have been on a double-digit decline. Arrivals from Japan, the main source of tourists, continue to plunge.

To prove its commitment to the CNMI, JAL has launched a Japan Saipan Campaign which will run for three months through March, targeting some 12,000 Japanese.

In December, JAL chartered six flights from Nagoya to Saipan using a Boeing 767 aircraft.

With its huge investment on the island, JAL has independently carried out a promotional campaign to lure more Japanese tourists to visit the island. JAL has invested more than $150 million on the island over the past 15 years. It established La Fiesta Shopping Center, Hotel Nikko Saipan and Tropical Laundry & Linen Services.

JAL has also petitioned the Tokyo government to allow the nation's flag carrier to reduce by two percent the airfare between Japan and Saipan to attract more passengers and give a lift to CNMI's sagging tourism economy. But the cutthroat competition in the travel industry and the currency crisis in Asia have severely affected the arrivals of more tourists on the island. In fact, many Japanese travel agents have complained of the growing popularity of Korea as a destination for Japanese travelers because of cheap tour packages.

According to November records, tourist arrivals from Japan dropped 16 percent even as MVA officials sought ways to make the Northern Marianas a more attractive destination.

MVA hopes to recapture the lost market share in Japan with the hiring of an advertising agency that will help increase the visibility of the Northern Marianas in its main market.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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