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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, August 28) – China’s largest air carrier has notified the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands it will suspend its twice-a-week charter flights between Guangzhou City and Saipan, a move that will affect the islands’ efforts to attract more Chinese tourists.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial announced on Friday that China Southern Airlines will suspend its flights to Saipan in September.

He said the administration plans to send a delegation to China to meet with airline executives and see if the carrier will "reconsider" its decision to suspend flights to Saipan.

"I told Jerry (Tan, chairman of the Marianas Visitors Authority board) to look into this and see if we can fly to China right away and talk to the airline and get them to reconsider this decision," said the governor during last Friday’s press conference.

Tan, who was present during the press briefing, said there are a number of factors behind China Southern Airlines’ decision to discontinue the Saipan route.

These include the low load factor, the high cost of aviation fuel and low yield in fares between Saipan and Guangzhou.

The carrier used a narrow-bodied aircraft to bring passengers from China to Saipan and its flights were part of the government’s effort to tap the Chinese market.

Tan said the Tinian Dynasty Hotel & Casino, which charters the flights from Guangzhou to Saipan, will not allow the suspension of the flights to hamper its efforts to bring in more Chinese tourists.

The Northern Marianas was granted an "approved destination status," or ADS, by the Chinese government in 2004, which allows its citizens to travel to the islands as tourists.

As of 2005, China had issued ADS status to 108 countries and destinations, including the commonwealth.

But the islands continue to struggle in attracting Chinese tourists who prefer the more popular U.S. destinations of Guam and Hawaii.

August 28, 2006

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