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By Aldwin R. Fajardo Staff Reporter

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (June 29, 2000 – Saipan Tribune)---A new market for the local travel industry has emerged and is slowly offsetting plunging visitor arrivals into the Northern Marianas. Mandarin Airlines reports that its flights from Taipei to Saipan are flying with a consistent 80 percent load factor.

Only two months since its maiden flight arrived at Saipan International Airport, Taiwan-based Mandarin Airlines is beginning to carve out a significant niche in the CNMI tourism sector by introducing the islands to Taiwanese travelers.

Mandarin Airlines Senior Vice President H.H. Sun yesterday said that the carrier, a subsidiary of China Airlines, is dispatching aircraft that are at least 80 percent filled from the country's capital of Taipei twice every week.

In an interview, Mr. Sun said the carrier has been receiving good support from the Marianas Visitors Authority, as well as other CNMI tour-related organizations and travel industry players, in the promotion of the islands as a prime destination for Taiwanese travelers.

He added that company executives are satisfied with the performance of the carrier's new flight services to Saipan, and raised hopes that the demand for more airline seats is not going to be a far-fetched possibility.

"Everyone has thrown full support to the project. We are very thankful to the Marianas Visitors Authority and other organizations in the CNMI for the assistance given us. It is really elating," he said in the interview.

Mr. Sun is confident more travelers from Taiwan will find the Northern Marianas to be a prime destination, especially when promotional efforts are intensified through cooperation with both CNMI and Taiwan organizations and tour agents.

"Most of the passengers who return to Taiwan from Saipan are happy about their trip, especially with the kind of hospitality and accommodations they receive from the people here, as well as the pristine beaches on the islands," he added.

Mandarin Airlines already is exploring the possibility of dispatching additional flights to Saipan, primarily due to the enthusiasm and interest shown by Taiwan travelers in the Northern Marianas.

"So far, we are seeing the beginning stage and we are happy about what we have been witnessing. We will continue to promote Saipan and the CNMI as an alternative destination for Taiwanese," said Mr. Sun.

He cited the efforts being carried out by the MVA in introducing the islands to the Taiwanese travel market that include its plan to attend the biggest trade show in the country scheduled toward the end of the year, as well as its plan to open an office in Taipei.

While Taiwanese travelers have a variety of choices when it comes to resort destinations, Mr. Sun said Saipan holds the distinction of still being in touch with nature, of having rich and diverse cultures, and of providing quality public safety measures.

The Northern Marianas has great potential to lure travelers from Taiwan because of the islands' wide variety of attractions that range from water sports at Saipan's beaches to the casino gaming activities on Tinian and Rota's natural landscape.

With the beginning of direct air service between Taipei and Saipan, Commonwealth officials now expect to get a good share of over five million Taiwanese who take overseas trips each year.

At least one in every four Taiwanese travels abroad every year, although mainland China has remained the most popular destination in recent years. The island-nation, which is home to over 22 million people, has one of the best standards of living in the world.

Mandarin Air uses B737-800 aircraft on all of its charter flights between Taipei and Saipan. The aircraft can accommodate 158 passengers.

The airline company is confident that it will be able to bring in at least 118 people per flight to the CNMI. It has pledged to deploy 96 flights from Taipei to Saipan during its first year of service.

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

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