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Arrivals down 43 percent last month

By Moneth Deposa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, July 15, 2009) - With still four months to go before the federal takeover of the local immigration system, the Russian market is already beginning to show a notable decline in arrivals since June, based on the latest Marianas Visitors Authority data.

At the same time, MVA reported yesterday that overall arrivals in June nosedived by 30 percent compared to the same period in 2008.

After showing consecutive monthly increases since last year, Russian arrivals fell 43 percent last month, with only 478 tourists arriving from the destination.

In a statement issued yesterday, MVA attributed the drastic decline to a "wrong impression" that a federalized immigration is now being enforced in the Commonwealth.

Federalization was supposed to start on June 1, as mandated by law, but the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, at the urging of local leaders, agreed to delay this by 180 days, or until Nov. 28 this year.

Under the impending federal takeover, a Russian tourist needs to procure a U.S. visa to visit the Commonwealth. This follows the Homeland Security decision to exclude Russia and China from the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver program.

"After such extraordinary performance in the Russian market since its inception, June’s arrival numbers were a reality check," said MVA managing director Perry Tenorio, adding that this is a strong indication of what will happen to the market if the CNMI does not keep visa waivers for Russia when the new federalization implementation deadline arrives on Nov. 28.

"We can see that without visa waivers, the Russian market will dry out very quickly for us," he added.

MVA said the average Russian visitor spends considerably more and stays longer than visitors from other major markets of the CNMI.

Besides federalization concerns, MVA said that Russian travel agents are also finding it difficult to sell the CNMI due to stiff competition from other destinations such as the Maldives, which offers 50 percent discount on travel packages.

Saipan Tribune learned that arrivals from all major markets registered double digit declines in June. Visitor arrivals to the islands of Saipan, Tinian and Rota registered 21,803 last month, compared to 30,936 in June 2008. Overall, the fiscal year total to date is -7.57 percent fewer visitors than the same period in 2008.

Arrivals from the primary market of Japan dropped by 30 percent last month to 11,152, compared to the 15,904 visitors posted in June 2008. The drop was attributed to school and family trip cancellations and the suspension or postponement of business travel because of the H1N1 flu virus, combined with the lagging global economy.

However, MVA is optimistic that the demand for Japanese summer travel is shifting from August to September, with the five-day string of national holidays from Sept. 19 to 23, dubbed "Silver Week."

For September alone, MVA said travel partners in Japan indicate that bookings to the CNMI are up substantially over 2008 arrivals.

Arrivals from Korea also fell by 30 percent last month, with only 6,735 visitors. According to the Korea Tourism Organization, the number of total outbound travelers from Korea in May was 737,396, a decrease of 33 percent compared to the same month of last year.

Meanwhile, the Bank of Korea says the Korean economy "seems to have escaped from a big shock, but is still sluggish."

The International Monetary Fund projects that the Korean economy will turn positive in 2010, with a 2.5 percent growth and a faster-than-expected recovery of the global economy.

Saipan Tribune also learned that arrivals from China plummeted 72 percent to 322 visitors. Losses were also seen in visitor arrivals from Guam, Taiwan, and the Philippines.

Meantime, arrivals from the United States gained 14 percent to 858, and other areas nudged up 1 percent to 519.

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