CNMI SEES SLIGHT RISE IN TOURISM

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More Japanese visitors boosted arrivals

By Moneth Deposa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, April 16, 2009) - Overall tourist arrivals in March 2009 totaled 32,908, a slight increase of 1.72 percent compared to the 32,352 arrivals posted during the same month last year.

Latest numbers issued yesterday by the Marianas Visitors Authority showed, however, that the CNMI continues to feel the impact of reduced worldwide travels, with tourist arrivals during the last six months -- October to March -- down 1.21 percent compared to last year’s.

In February, arrivals were down 12 percent.

MVA said the slight increase last month is attributed to the 4 percent increase posted by the Japanese market, which had 18,852 visitors last month compared to March 2008.

"Although the March increase from Japan was only incremental, it was quite significant compared to declining travel trends happening around the world," said MVA managing director Perry Tenorio, adding that Japan itself lost 41 percent of its own visitors in February 2009.

"So in that context, it’s commendable that the NMI was able to grow 4 percent from this market in March, especially with the termination of Northwest Airlines Osaka-Saipan flight in early March. With far fewer Japanese traveling abroad compared to last March, it helps that we promote the Northern Marianas as a quick, short-haul destination," he added.

MVA, however, noted that arrivals from Korea’s primary markets recorded fifth straight month of double-digit declines. Records show that the CNMI accommodated only 5,532 Korean travelers last month, translating to a 23 percent decline in the market.

Overall, outbound departures from Korea dropped 34 percent in February 2009 compared to February 2008.

MVA believes that the Korean economy, with its contracting domestic demand and worsening employment conditions, continues to go through a recessionary phase. Although the Korean won strengthened against the dollar to finish the month at 1,412.5, Korean purchasing power is still much lower than last year.

Meantime, Russian arrivals continue to go up, though it registered only 3 percent growth at 709 visitors last month.

"In addition to Russian outbound travel being down 30 percent, the buying power of the ruble against the dollar dropped 32 percent last month. That’s a significant shift," said Tenorio, admitting that travel agents had also some difficulty last month confirming air seats between Korea and Saipan for travelers originating from Russia.

MVA said China continues its downtrend figures in arrivals, with a 13 percent drop to 1,955, while Guam, the Philippines and Taiwan also registered fewer arrivals at 1,369; 143; and 2 visitors respectively.

Visiting cruise ships and military vessels boosted the "Other Areas" category of visitors in the CNMI. Arrivals from United States rose 73 percent to 2,768 while cruise ships had a 131 percent increase to 1,578.

MVA is anticipating increased arrivals in summer, with Continental Micronesia’s announcement this week of double-daily scheduled charter flights from Narita to Saipan from July 18 to September 23, 2009.

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