TIGHT SECURITY AS FLIGHTS FROM PACIFIC RETURN TO U.S.

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (September 16, 2001 - PINA Nius Online)---Heavy security was in place at Fiji's Nadi International Airport yesterday as Air Pacific and Air New Zealand resumed flights to the United States of America.

It came as major tourism destinations Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam and the Northern Marianas worked to get home thousands of tourists stranded by the closure of American air space after terrorist attacks.

There were worries about the long-term impact on Pacific Islands tourism of the hijacking of four airliners in America and the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

FIJI

Fiji police checked vehicles entering the Nadi International Airport terminal area. Restrictions were imposed on the movement of non-passengers inside the terminal. Long lines formed as all bags of all passengers bound for the U.S. were searched by teams of security guards.

Local radio stations broadcast notices for passengers to check in up to five hours before flights departed because of the increased security measures. Tourist hotels posted similar notices in their foyers.

Air New Zealand and Fiji's Air Pacific both have flights from Nadi to Honolulu and Los Angeles.

Hotels around Nadi airport, in the west of Fiji's main island, Viti Levu, and the hub of Fiji's tourist industry, have been packed.

People have been waiting to travel to the United States, Canada, and Europe.

The backlog of passengers in Nadi Airport area hotels was added to by the sudden collapse of the Australian airline Ansett. Ansett operated twice-weekly Sydney-Nadi return flights and marketed Fiji holiday packages.

Air Pacific chief executive John Campbell told Fiji's Sunday Sun: "We expect there will be some short term reduction in travelers from the United States because of the difficulty for United States citizens to travel within North America to make connections to the Air Pacific services at Los Angeles."

Air Pacific flies its Boeing 747 services Nadi-Los Angeles-Nadi, with Qantas and American Airlines code sharing on these flights. It uses its new Boeing 737-800 long-range aircraft to fly Nadi-Honolulu-Vancouver (Canada) return.

Mr Campbell said arrangements were being made to accommodate stranded Ansett passengers on Air Pacific flights back to Australia.

FRENCH POLYNESIA

Tahitipresse reported from Pape‘ete that a spray of flowers was thrown into the sea in front of one of the "Renaissance" cruise ships by government representatives.

More than 1,500 tourists, including 1,000 US citizens, were stuck in Tahiti because of the closure of American airspace, Tahitipresse said.

A Hawaiian Airlines plane coming from Los Angeles will bring back more than 400 passengers from the "Renaissance" cruise ship to the United States.

The Minister for Tourism, Nicole Bouteau, underlined the "exemplary solidarity" of French Polynesians with American tourists.

She added that the "psychosis" in the United States could affect French Polynesian tourism in the long term.

More than half of the visitors coming each year to Tahiti are U.S. citizens. More than 400 bookings for hotels or cruise ships in French Polynesia were cancelled in three days.

"The weeks to come will be difficult weeks. We will do our best to make sure that our tourism industry will not suffer too much," said Ms. Bouteau.

GUAM

The Pacific Daily News reported that in Guam hundreds of Japanese tourists, who have been stranded on Guam since Tuesday, returned home yesterday.

Japan Airlines flew three planes packed with tourists to Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya early yesterday morning. The flights, free to ticket holders of canceled flights, were called "rescue flights" because they brought home tourists stranded by the airport's closure.

"We've pretty much taken out the bulk of passengers that were left behind," said Ann Waki, the airline's assistant manager of administration.

All Nippon Airways officials said Friday they would also be conducting "rescue" efforts.

Taro Inada, 66, of Nara, Japan, told the Pacific Daily News that he was relieved the flights finally came. "I'm glad to go home," he said. "My money was starting to dwindle."

Though the rescue flights brought relief to stranded passengers, it meant an inevitable setback for the island's tourist industry.

Even after flights are opened, Inada said he believes it will be a while until tourism returns to its earlier level. "It's going to take three or four months before people feel comfortable returning to the United States," he said.

But Keiko Ono, 25, of Yamanashi, Japan, disagreed, telling Pacific Daily News that Guam's location is viewed as beneficial by Japanese.

"Tourism to Guam probably wouldn't be affected, but I wouldn't want to go to New York or Washington right now," she said.

NORTHERN MARIANAS

The Saipan Tribune reported more than 4,100 outbound tourists were stranded on Saipan as America's Federal Aviation Administration reopened American air space, including Guam and the Northern Marianas.

The stranded tourists, who complained of having been cash-strapped, were offered assistance by the Northern Marianas government and local companies.

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

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