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By Jude O. Marfil

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Jan. 20) –Hotel Nikko Saipan has expressed concern over Japan Airlines’ decision to downsize the aircraft it uses when flying to Saipan.

Yutaka Fujita, general manager, said JAL’s switch from the 411-seat Boeing 747 to the 266-seat DC-10 might have a long-term adverse effect on the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’s bid to attract more tourist from Japan.

"I worry about two elements: passenger comfort and group tours," he said.

Fujita pointed out that a passenger might prefer flying a particular aircraft because he is comfortable with the seats. A Boeing 747, being a wide-bodied aircraft, has more leg room and bigger seats compared to a DC-10 plane.

"A client might prefer to fly in a certain classified seat. Capacity-wise, it might affect his comfort," the hotel executive said.

Travel agents might also have a hard time inviting Japanese tourists en masse because a DC-10 aircraft might not have enough room to accommodate a group tour.

Despite this, Fujita said Nikko, which is a subsidiary of JAL, would just have to adapt to the situation.

"Tourism is a by-product of travel agencies, airlines and hotels," Fujita said. "All three of us have to work together as business partners."

The Marianas Visitors Authority reported that arrivals from Japan declined 2 percent, from 34,689 in December 2003 to 34,015 in the same month in 2004. A decline in inbound passengers from Japan from 95,108 in the first quarter of fiscal year 2004 to 93,055 in the same period in 2005 was also noted.

Joseph Takai, assistant supervisor at JAL’s office here, said they have been using the DC-10 since April last year, owing to poor bookings.

"Even with smaller aircraft, our load factor is 70 percent," Takai said. "But we’re going to start using the Boeing 747 again in August this year for our summer schedule."

Japan has remained the CNMI’s largest tourism market, making up 75 to 80 percent of the total tourists arrivals to Saipan, Tinian and Rota.

January 20, 2005

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