MORE FLIGHTS FROM KOREA AND TAIWAN TO SAIPAN UNDER CONSIDERATION

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By Lindablue F. Romero

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (January 28, 1999 - Saipan Tribune)---As a result of negotiations made by the Marianas Visitors Authority (MVA) and the Aviation Task Force, Korean Airlines may resume its operation in the CNMI while Far Eastern Air Transport is scheduled to begin providing Saipan-Taipei direct service in May.

Northwest Airlines is also looking at the possibility of replacing its DC-10 aircraft with a B-747 on Saipan, increasing the number of passengers by 45 percent, MVA board chairman Dave M. Sablan said yesterday.

"We are doing everything to increase the arrivals to save the island's main source of revenue," he said. However, Sablan said efforts are moving slowly because Asia's financial crisis has dampened people's enthusiasm to travel abroad.

According to Sablan, efforts to convince airlines to expand service have been made to develop alternative markets for the Northern Marianas' half-a-billion-dollar-a-year tourism industry.

Far Eastern Air Transport was expected to begin providing Taipei-Saipan direct service last year, but airline executives decided to postpone the plan due to the worsening economic condition in Asia.

Sablan hopes that Korean Air will push through with the plan to resume service on the island since it used to be the second biggest source of visitors until the collapse of the Korean economy, which forced many businessmen to leave the island.

But the biggest setback to the island's tourism economy was when Japan, the island's main source of tourists, plunged into its longest recession since World War II. Consumers remain gloomy and Japanese have changed their spending habits as they become more discriminating in their choice of destination.

Japan Travel Bureau, Inc., the largest travel wholesaler in Japan, has projected that the 0.1 increase in overseas travel for this year compared to 1998 will be fueled by the expected strong demand from family and middle age group travelers who were apparently less affected by the recession. At the same time, domestic travel is expected to increase in Japan as the Ministry of Transport has been aggressively carrying out a campaign to encourage Japanese to spend their vacations in their own country.

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

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