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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, August 28) – Northwest Airlines is facing difficulty selling flights bound for Saipan from Nagoya and Osaka, Japan but is keeping those routes and will add more night flights out of the more populated Tokyo area soon, according to Marianas Visitors Authority Chairman Jerry Tan.

He said Northwest will eventually have 26 flights between Saipan and Narita, Osaka and Nagoya, Japan, once it adds two more night flights out of Tokyo later this year.

In April, Northwest launched night flights out of Narita International Airport through a memorandum of agreement with the CNMI government.

The extra flights were originally set to expire in October.

However, on Friday, Tan announced that Northwest is extending these flights and will even add more.

Using a study pointing to an average spending of $1,332 per Japanese tourist, Tan said Northwest’s extra flights will yield direct economic spending of at least $8.3 million a month for the ailing local economy.

He said the net economic value of additional flights from Japan is estimated to be worth $100 million in a year’s time.

He explained that Northwest will use three jumbo jets for its extra flights which are projected to generate 40,000 airline seats.

"The big challenge is how to fill those planes. We need more Japanese tourists to come," the MVA board chairman said. "It’s a huge challenge for us. Nagoya and Osaka are not profitable for Northwest right now."

On Sept 14, a CNMI delegation, led by Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, is heading to Tokyo to meet with major players in Japan’s travel industry.

The governor said the tourism task force members will join the delegation.

Both the governor and Tan vowed to aggressively market the local tourism industry in Japan.

"Japan will remain our main market for many years," said Tan.

Both officials expressed thanks to Northwest for staying with the local tourism industry at a time when it especially needs such support to keep Japanese tourists.

More than 70 percent of tourists visiting the islands annually are from Japan.

August 28, 2006

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