CONTINENTAL, UNITED MERGER CALLED BOON TO PACIFIC

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Oceania to benefit from Asia, West Coast markets

By Shaun Bevan HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Oct. 15, 2010) – The merger between Continental Airlines and United Air Lines could bring more air traffic to Guam, said Walter Dias, Continental's greater China and Southeast Asia managing director.

Continental has kept a small niche market in Micronesia and Japan, but with United's strong West Coast presence, the newly formed Continental United Holdings Inc., will be able to reach more customers than ever before, he said.

"The point of the merger is to bring together something that allows us to offer more to the customers, so what we've done is brought together two large networks," Dias said. "As the new United, we can talk to these folks and tell them about the beautiful islands of Micronesia."

Dias spoke to approximately 150 people during the China Outbound Travel Market Symposium yesterday about flying Chinese visitors to Guam and spreading awareness in China of the island's presence.

Continental is the first air carrier to have a direct non-stop charter flight from China to Guam.

The most popular travel times for the Chinese is during their New Year and national holidays. This year, during the Chinese New Year, Continental operated seven chartered flights from mainland China to Guam and have 10 charters signed up for next year, with the possibility of three more signing on.

But this is only the beginning for direct scheduled flights between the two locations.

"You got to have that demand," Dias said. "The worst thing we can do is offer economic services early, and then find out it won't work and have to pull out."

The travel and tourism industry want to make sure the market is ready to make the next step to meet that demand, he added.

The chartered flights are a small step toward testing China's interest in visiting Guam.

Currently, applying for a visa to enter Guam is laborious and often difficult to obtain because of the inability of the United States embassy and consulates to process paperwork on time, Dias said. If the island were to enjoy the same privilege as the Commonwealth Nations of Mariana Islands, where there is no visa requirement to visit, that would make a huge difference in promoting the island, he said.

"Traveling to the U.S. is continuing to grow, as it's the most popular long-haul destination for China," Dias said.

By the end of the year, more than 700,000 visitors will have traveled to the U.S., he said. Those travelers are going to have multi-entry visas to the states that are good for the year, which is a perfect opportunity to try and attract them to Guam, he added.

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