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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety) - Chinese awareness of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas as a resort destination in the Pacific Region is still "low," a major challenge that the Marianas Visitors Authority must overcome to successfully penetrate the booming Chinese traveling market, marketing experts say.

Shari L. Oliynyk, of Beijing Ruder Finn Public Relations, the firm MVA hired to market the commonwealth in China, said their main objective this year is to raise awareness about the islands among potential Chinese travelers.

"Compared with destinations that have been promoting themselves for a number of years, like Thailand, awareness of the Northern Marianas is low. That is why we have been appointed," said Oliynyk in an interview.

"The objective for the first year is to significantly raise awareness of the Northern Marianas, and in particular to put Saipan, Tinian and Rota ‘on the map,’" she added.

The public relations specialist said they are still in the planning stage on how to exactly raise the consciousness of Chinese travelers on CNMI.

Among their plans is to work closely with travel and tourism agents in both mainland China and Hong Kong, make an aggressive media relations campaign which include familiarization tours to the CNMI.

"In addition to ongoing contact with CNMI and Chinese travel partners, we will be conducting trade familiarization trips that incorporate meetings with CNMI inbound tour operators as well as the MVA, and eventually we will be conducting road shows, cooperative advertising campaigns and joint promotional seminars in order to increase visitor numbers," Oliynyk said.

Government authorities are also challenged by the absence of the Authorized Destination Status for CNMI.

The Chinese government designates ADS on countries where its citizens are free to travel.

Without ADS, it will be difficult to effectively market the CNMI to Chinese citizens, according to tourism officials.

"As MVA chairman David Sablan, mentioned, the granting of ADS for CNMI is the biggest hurdle for the (agency) in China," Oliynyk said.

The Chinese market made the most impact in the positive tourist arrivals rate in the CNMI last month.

MVA records showed 1,124 Chinese visited the commonwealth in June, up 2,576 percent from last year’s 42.

July 6, 2004

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