NORTHERN MARIANAS, WORRIED ABOUT JAPAN, GOES AFTER CHINESE TOURISTS

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By Edith G. Alejandro

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (January 2, 2002 - Saipan Tribune/PINA Nius Online)---The Marianas Visitors Authority is wary that that recession in Japan will not be over in the next few years, and is working to immediately develop new markets for the local tourism industry.

Board chair Dave Sablan said there are ongoing discussions between tourism industry players and the incoming administration of Governor-elect Juan Babauta and Lieutenant-Governor-elect Diego Benavente.

These include more extensive marketing strategies that would promote the Northern Marianas as a preferred destination not only to Japanese travelers but also in such places as China, Hong Kong, and the Philippines.

Industry leaders hope to launch a series of discussions with the incoming Babauta administration for possible amendments to existing rules concerning the entry of Chinese tourists.

Initially, the Marianas Visitors Authority is hoping to tap travelers from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong.

Sablan said: "We should not expect too much from Japan in 2002. We will continue to spend the same level of advertising funds as in 2000-2001, but we won't expect an increase or a sudden jump on tourist arrivals."

With Japanese travelers veering away from overseas trips, the Northern Marianas now depends largely on the arrival of visitors from South Korea. They started coming in bulk this past year, comprising about 75 percent of total tourist arrivals in 2001.

Commonwealth Ports Authority Board Chair Roman S. Palacios said the comeback of Korean visitors is manifested by the recent announcement of Korean Air to resume its services from Seoul to Saipan beginning next week.

Palacios pointed out that Korean Air’s return resulted from the recent decision of the Federal Aviation Administration to upgrade the carrier’s safety rating to Category-1. This gives Korea’s Civil Aviation Authority the ability to reinstate services to all airports across the United States and its territories, as well as provide additional flights.

Korean Air’s return to Saipan is anticipated to bring in an additional 8,176 visitors from Korea each month. Asiana Airlines’ increased flights translate to about 2,124 more Korean travelers every month.

This development represents some 123,000 additional visitors for the Northern Marianas in the next 12 months.

Both Sablan and Palacios are optimistic that the increase in Korean travelers will help minimize the adverse impacts of the recession in Japan to the Northern Marianas' struggling economy.

Also, the local tourism sector is hoping to tap the huge tourist market from China.

Sablan said: "We are quite optimistic with Hong Kong, since the market can be developed through Continental flights. It will take six to seven months to develop the market.

"We have asked the governor-elect to explore the possibility of getting the China government to declare CNMI as an approved destination, but it might be restricted to three to four cities."

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

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

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