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CNMI sees surge in Chinese arrivals

CNMI Lt. Gov. David Apatang welcomed Sun Jianfeng, Hong Kong Airlines chairman, during the carrier's inaugural flight between Hong Kong and Saipan on April 20. Photo courtesy of MVA

 By Pacific Island Times News Staff

Saipan—   China has marked its highest monthly arrivals since direct flights were halted during the pandemic, according to the Marianas Visitors Authority.

MVA’s May arrivals report recorded 2,061 Chinese visitors compared to 392 arrivals during the same month last year.


The anticipated recovery of the China market was attributed to the resumption of Hong Kong Airlines’ direct flights between Hong Kong and Saipan in April.


Before the pandemic, China was the second largest source market of visitors to The Marianas with multiple direct flights a week from five cities. 


Reviving the China market has triggered a clash between the Palacios administration and the industry stakeholders in the past weeks.


The Commonwealth Port Authority and business organizations have been pushing for the reinstatement of Annex VI, an exemption from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s order to limit the number of roundtrip flight services between the U.S. and China, as well as the implementation of the CNMI Economic Vitality & Security Travel Authorization Program.


CNMI Gov. Arnold Palacios, however, has expressed concerns about the instability of the mainland Chinese tourism market, especially in light of geopolitical tensions in the region and China’s economic conditions.


While the CNMI’s tourism has been recovering at a slow pace after the pandemic, MVA has noted an upward trend in May, albeit the numbers are still far from the pre-pandemic levels.


Arrivals to the islands of Saipan, Tinian and Rota grew 9 percent to 18,680 visitors in May, compared to 17,117 visitors received in May 2023. 


 Monthly arrivals were 51 percent lower compared to pre-pandemic levels of May 2019, when arrivals reached 38,262 visitors. 

Visitor arrivals from South Korea registered 13,378, 4 percent lower than May 2023.  

While year-to-date visitor arrivals from South Korea have recovered to 20 percent compared to FY 2019 before the pandemic, the small percentage decline in May is largely due to an extra high number of arrivals last May, when pent-up travel demand after the pandemic had created a surge of outbound travel from Korea. 


Direct flight service is provided to Saipan from Seoul by Jeju Air and T’Way, as well as Asiana Airlines, which will close its Saipan office at the end of this month. 


During the peak summer season, Jeju Air will add flights from July 17 to August 18 to capture demand during the high peak summer season, making three daily flights on the Incheon-Saipan route by Jeju and one daily flight by T’Way. Visitors from Korea comprise 76 percent of all arrivals to the CNMI.


Visitor arrivals from Japan registered 859 in May 2024 compared to 649 visitors in May 2023, a 32 percent increase.  United Airlines flies three times weekly from Tokyo-Narita to Saipan. 


Beginning May 7, United started a new, more convenient flight schedule, which has helped nudge up arrivals. 

However, the strong U.S. dollar and weaker Japanese yen continue to influence travelers to choose non-U.S. or domestic destinations at this time.

In March, the CNMI also received 1,096 visitors from Guam, 754 visitors from the United States, and a combined 532 visitors from all other markets. 

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