CNMI ARRIVALS DROP 30 PERCENT IN MAY

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By John Ravelo

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, June 15) - Tourist
inflow to the Commonwealth suffered another setback as May arrivals made history
as the lowest so far this financial year, according to the Marianas Visitors
Authority.

The number of Japanese travelers, meanwhile, declined to its
lowest level in over a decade, with the MVA reporting that the figure is worse
than the post-Sept, 11, 2001 tally.

With the exception of travelers from Guam, all other market
groups-Japan, Korea, United States, and China-posted negative performance during
the month of May 2003, a disgrace to the annual celebration of the CNMI Tourism
Month.

The MVA report, released Friday, disclosed that the CNMI played
host to 27,043 visitors during the CNMI Tourism Month of May. This, even as the
government and other travel industry players organized various tourist-luring
activities throughout the month.

Overall, the May 2003 arrivals tally represented a decline of
29.97 percent compared with the total number of visitors during the same month
last year.

The MVA said, however, that year-to-date figure indicates an
actual growth in arrival statistics of about 19.23 percent from the previous
year's tally.

Visitor arrivals had tremendous showing in the first few months
beginning October 2002. The devastation of Guam by Supertyphoon Pongsona in
December also diverted Guam-bound travelers to the CNMI from December 2003 to
February 2003, as indicated by the MVA's encouraging monthly tally.

The per-month tourism statistical report, however, started
nose-diving in March as an apparent result of the travel scare associated with
the outbreak of the dreaded Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.

In May 2003, Japanese visitors to the CNMI numbered 16,393,
lower by about 35 percent from the year-ago's 25,247 tourists.

"Our MVA Japan Office reported that the decrease is
attributed to the industry-wide devastation caused by SARS, with potential
Japanese travelers preferring to defer travel as a result of the fear and
uncertainty associated with the SARS outbreak in Asia and North America,"
MVA managing director Jonas Ogren stated in a report.

Ogren described the month as "disastrous" for the
Japanese travel industry, but added that its impact to the CNMI was less
dramatic compared to other destinations. In April, Ogren said Japanese arrivals
to the following destinations plunged severely worse: Singapore, 75 percent;
Taiwan, 57 percent; China, 55 percent; and Malaysia, 44 percent.

The MVA said Japanese outbound travels worldwide in April 2003
declined by 41.96 percent, the second consecutive month the traveling market
showed negative performance.

"Based on our MVA Japan Office's monthly report for May
2003, it stated that the last time the April count fell to the 720,000-level was
in 1989 to 719,827, making the drop in the number of travelers far worse than
that which followed the September 11 incident which fell to 860,698 in October
2001," Jonas stated. "Additionally, the rate of decrease nearly
matched the negative 43.81 percent in November 2001."

The SARS problem also affected the aviation industry. Ogren said
Northwest and Continental Airlines flew to Saipan last month only 24 and 23
times respectively, instead of their regular daily flights. For Narita-Saipan
flights, Japan Airlines changed its aircraft from 747 to DC-10 that has smaller
seating capacity.

China, which had promised to be a surging tourism market for the
CNMI last year, was the most affected by the SARS problem in terms of arrival
percentage last month, as the government imposed a travel ban on those coming
from the country. SARS was believed to have originated from a town in China.

Consequently, direct flights from China Southern Airlines were
suspended effective April. The decline in Chinese arrivals in May skyrocketed to
95 percent. The CNMI played host to only 38 travelers from China during the
month under review.

The number of travelers form Hong Kong, another SARS-infected
market, dropped by 52 percent last month with 163 arrivals, while Taiwan's 32
visitors reflected a 77 percent decline.

Even visitors from the U.S. mainland went down by a considerable
40 percent, totaling only 2,076.

Another major market-Korea-posted a modest drop in arrival
figures for the month, with 5,692 visitors. Ogren said the 5-percent decline
indicated that the SARS problem had minimal impact on Koreans' outbound travel.
"In May 2003, Asiana Airlines brought in six flights in addition to its
daily flights."

Guam visitors, meanwhile, slightly increased by one percent,
totaling 1,869 during the CNMI Tourism Month.

The MVA had earlier projected the negative impact of SARS on
worldwide travel. Eventually, MVA chair Dave Sablan had disclosed that the CNMI
would strengthen other tourism markets, including Europe.

Germany, which occupied the Northern Marianas in the early
1900's, is among the markets being eyed by the MVA. Saying that Germans are
"good travelers" because they stay on destinations from a month to
six, the MVA hoped that they are likely to travel in the CNMI due to strong
historical ties.

June 16, 2003

Saipan Tribune: http://www.tribune.co.mp/ 

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