CNMI eyes return of Chinese tourists
Updated: Aug 19
China reinstates the Northern Marianas' approved destination status
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
Saipan-- The China National Tourism Administration has reinstated the Northern Marianas on its approved destination status list, allowing package tours and charter flights to the destination once again, according to the Marianas Visitors Bureau.
Prior to the pandemic, China was one of the top source markets for the CNMI. While the market is anticipated to continue incremental growth, it is expected that it will take several months before charter flights resume and more arrivals are seen, MVA said.
“Today’s action to restore the United States as an approved destination for Chinese group travel is a significant win for the U.S. travel and tourism industry and an important step forward to promote the type of people-to-people exchange that is crucial for our bilateral relationship,” said U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo upon announcement of the approved destination status.
“This has been the culmination of months of hard work between the U.S. Department of Commerce and the People’s Republic of China Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Before Covid, as many as 3 million Chinese travelers visited the United States annually, contributing more than $30 billion to the U.S. economy. We look forward to once again welcoming Chinese group travel to the United States.”
China arrivals to the CNMI were at 1,075 compared to 47 arrivals in July 2023. Most visitors from China are FITs arriving via Seoul and Tokyo.
The reinstatement of the CNMI's approved destination was announced nearly four months after Gov. Arnold I. Palacios expressed his administration’s intention to ditch the Chinese tourism market, citing the growing geopolitical tension between Washington and Beijing.
In a March 15 letter to Adm. John Aquilino, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Palacios said the CNMI “is very much committed to U.S. national interests in our region and will do what we can to advance these interests as geopolitical tensions continue to heighten.”
Palacios said the CNMI will "pivot away from its reliance on the Chinese tourism market, which comprised more than 50 percent of our tourism base, or about 200,000 visitors (pre-pandemic)."
The China market has been the CNMI tourism industry’s bread and butter. Prior to the global Covid-19 pandemic, China was the CNMI’s second largest source market next to South Korea. The CNMI-only visa waiver program allows tourists from China, including Hong Kong, to visit the commonwealth for 14 days without a U.S. visa.
Arrivals to the islands of Saipan, Tinian and Rota grew 142 percent to 25,089 visitors in July 2023, compared to 10,367 visitors received in July 2022,
according to the Marianas Visitors Authority.
Visitor arrivals from South Korea reached 20,627 compared to 8,444 in July last year. This marks the first month the market has surpassed 20,000 arrivals since prior to the pandemic. Strong demand in Korea has generated an abundance of air service to The Marianas by Jeju Air, T’Way, and Asiana Airline from Seoul and newly launched daily flights by Jeju Air from Busan through October.
By the end of fiscal year 2023, available air seats from Korea are projected to be restored to 78% of the number available before the pandemic.
The Marianas received 898 visitors from Japan in July 2023 compared to 109 visitors in July 2022. In its marketing efforts, the MVA continues to face the obstacles of a strong U.S. dollar and a Japan national travel discount program that offers up to 20% discount to encourage domestic – rather than outbound – travel. Also, many Japanese are also still hesitant to travel due to fears of COVID, especially as a large percentage of Japanese children are not vaccinated.
Overall, visitor arrivals to The Marianas have recovered 44% year-to-date compared to FY 2019 before the pandemic. In July The Marianas also received 1,181 visitors from USA, 985 visitors from Guam, and a combined 323 visitors from all other markets. Included in the arrival count is one port call by the USS John Finn.