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By Lindablue F. Romero

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (Dec. 20, 1999 – Saipan Tribune/Abridged)---Visitor arrivals, totaling 41,480 for the month of November, rose 5.5 percent compared to the same period in 1998, according to the Marianas Visitors Authority.

Japan, the island's main market, jumped 7 percent, which tourism officials attribute to the recent strength of the yen, an increase in air capacity and additional charter flights, MVA said.

The termination of direct service from Saipan to various cities in Japan by Continental Micronesia was compensated for by additional charter service by Japan Airlines.

December arrivals may show an even bigger improvement, with All Nippon Airways adding charter flights for the Christmas season and a millennium travel package.

JAL had five charter flights that brought in approximately 1,250 visitors from Japan last month. In addition, airline seat capacity from Tokyo jumped 12 percent compared with November 1998.

The increase was due to the upgrade in aircraft by Northwest from a DC-10 to a B747, which resulted in a 17 percent growth.

Arrivals from Korea, the second biggest market, showed the highest gain at 46 percent, although it was below the average growth rate experienced during the previous months. There were only two extra flights for the month of November compared to the six extra flights in October.

Asiana's daily service between Seoul and Saipan assured the continued growth of the Korean market.

Arrivals from the United States, also a good source of visitors, dropped 38 percent. Taiwan, considered an alternative market, declined 73 percent, while Hong Kong showed a promising 14 percent increase.

Amid the slow growth in visitor arrivals, tourism officials in the CNMI have been trying to entice carriers to serve new markets, as well as provide direct service to the routes earlier dropped by Continental Micronesia, the region's main air carrier.

Meantime, MVA is pursuing the huge tourist market in mainland China. The Pacific Asia Travel Association Micronesia Chapter has included it in its marketing campaign next year.

While PATA members believe that Japan will remain the biggest market in Micronesia, they also recognized the fact that China is a huge source of visitors that cannot be ignored.

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

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