By Agnes E. Donato

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Oct. 20) – The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas has not yet acquired an approved destination status from Beijing, but China is already the CNMI’s fastest growing market for the local tourism industry, the Marianas Visitors Authority said.

Latest MVA data showed that for fiscal year 2003, arrivals from China recorded 13,351 visitors, an increase of 90 percent compared to FY 2002

The CNMI welcomed only 7,013 visitors from China in 2002.

"China was the fastest growing market for the CNMI’s visitor market. Arrivals from China soared throughout most of the fiscal year, setting a record breaking year for the market," MVA said.

Arrivals from China in 2003 was highest in February, posting a total of 2,436 visitors.

China was also one of the first markets to show signs of recovery from the impact of the SARS epidemic and the Iraq war. It posted an increase of 5 percent as early as August, while m ost of the other markets, including Japan and South Korea, continued to decline.

But arrivals from Japan — which remains the CNMI tourism industry’s prime market — registered an 8 percent increase in FY 2003 compared to the previous year. From 293,921 visitors in 2002, Japan arrivals rose to 318,225.

Korea also posted a slight increase of 3 percent, from 77,665 in 2002 to 79,831 in 2003.

The CNMI is not on the Chinese government’s list of approved destinations for its citizens.

However, MVA had said that the commonwealth has better relations with China now.

Last July, the head of the China National Tourism Administration made a five-day unofficial visit to the CNMI.

It was followed by a visit by seven high-ranking officials and businessmen from Quanzhou City last month.

According to the CNTA Web site, the Chinese government used to permit overseas travels to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines only. In 1998, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Japan were added as official overseas destinations for Chinese.

October 20, 2003

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