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By Jayvee Vallejera

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (January 31, 2002 – Saipan Tribune)---Despite the possible negative ripples that may emanate from the unemployment rate hike in Japan, Rep. Francisco DeLeon Guerrero said the CNMI government can still offset this by taking advantage of the strong Korean market.

Guerrero, who is chairman of the House Tourism Committee, conceded that the Japanese unemployment rate of 5.6 percent in December would definitely have an effect on the CNMI’s tourism sector.

He pointed out, though, that any losses arising from this may be recouped through aggressive penetration of the Korean market, which he described as "pretty stable."

"The number of outbound travelers in Korea has been projected to increase this year, so all we have to do is to increase our promotional budget for Korea and Japan, because Japan is still a very important market for us," he added.

At the same time, he pointed out that economic experts have predicted that the world economy would rebound in the second half of this year, which would result in more tourists coming in.

To achieve this, however, Guerrero said the Marianas Visitors Authority’s promotional budget should be increased so that it will have all the necessary resources to go all-out in marketing the CNMI as a destination.

With an increase in the promotional purse, Guerrero said the CNMI can expose itself more and package itself as a more attractive destination compared to others in the region.

When asked to relate this to the falling revenues, the lawmaker said it is just a matter of setting the government’s priorities "and tourism is our biggest industry over here."

Another factor that must be addressed, he said, is the feedback from tourists that the CNMI is a more expensive destination compared to others due to its dollar-denominated economy.

"Right now, Korean tourists are going to the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand, which are all cheaper destinations than us. So, we have to reevaluate ourselves and see what we can do to lower the cost of our destination," he said.

Guerrero denied claims about fragmented efforts in marketing the Commonwealth abroad, saying that he had just arrived from a tourism trade fair in Korea where he saw for himself all the islands of the CNMI being promoted.

"Saipan, Tinian and Rota were equally represented during the trade fair and all other promotions we’re doing in Korea. I’m pretty sure we’re doing the same thing everywhere," said Guerrero.

He stressed that the CNMI remains a popular destination among the Koreans and, with the return of Korean Airlines, he believes that Korea will continue to be a strong market for the CNMI.

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

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