GUAM, PALAU, CHUUK FOCUS OF CONTINENTAL MICRONESIA EXPANSION

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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (August 2, 2001 - Pacific Magazine/PINA Nius Online)---In the western Pacific Islands that depend so heavily on the Asian tourist market, the words "cautiously optimistic" are now a well-worn cliché. But passenger loads appear to be picking up to certain areas, and Continental Micronesia is responding with additional flights, particularly focused on extra service to Guam from Manila and Hong Kong.

Continental’s Guam-based Vice President for sales and promotions Wally Dias says, too, that the air carrier is seriously looking at adding an extra weekly flight into Palau and Chuuk by the end of this year.

"There were a few years that were very difficult in this part of the operation of Continental," Dias says, referring to the late 1990s. "But through an austerity program and the replacement of older aircraft with new Boeing 737 narrow bodied aircraft, the plan that began in the aftermath of Super-Typhoon Paka (1997), which dealt a heavy blow to the airline, is now proving fruitful to our region."

Given the difficulties inherent in service to the less traveled islands in Micronesia -- Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae, Yap and Majuro -- some questioned Continental’s commitment to the area. Now Continental is promoting Guam and nearby islands in Japan and elsewhere, a campaign that is paying off.

"Our Japan traffic increased to Palau and Yap by nine and 11 percent, respectively, in the first five months of the year," Dias said. "We believe the introduction of the 737-800 (planes) and the restructuring of the Palau-Yap schedule has helped increase passenger loads to Palau."

The modest upswing in visitors also coincides with the airline’s major push in Japan to promote Micronesian destinations to both travel industry officials and individual travelers. Dias said the airline is also watching load factors into Palau and Chuuk -- both relatively high-visibility scuba diving destinations -- to decide when to add an extra flight per week, something the airline intends to do possibly by December.

For additional reports from Pacific Magazine, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Magazines/Journals/Pacific Magazine.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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