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HK Airlines resumes Saipan service; hotel group ‘ecstatic’ about the return of Chinese tourists


a group of Asian tourists walking to the hotel
Asian tourists head back to their hotel on Saipan. Despite slow tourism recovery, the Northern Marianas is beginning to see the return of visitors. Photo by Mar-Vic Cagurangan

By Pacific Island Times News Staff


Saipan—After a four-year hiatus, Hong Kong Airlines will resume direct flights between Hong Kong and Saipan this weekend, foretelling the resurgence of the China market in the Northern Marianas.

 

The Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, or HANMI, said it “is eagerly looking forward” to the carrier’s inaugural flight, which is scheduled to arrive at the Franciso Ada Saipan International Airport on April 29.

 

Hong Kong Airlines will operate Airbus A330 aircraft with 280 seats twice weekly.

 

“Our members are ecstatic about the reinstatement of Hong Kong Airlines' exclusive direct service to Saipan, marking another significant milestone in our destination’s journey toward tourism recovery,” said HANMI Chairman Dennis Seo. 


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Hong Kong Airlines canceled the Saipan route in 2020 due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. At the same time, the Chinese government paused the approved destination status agreements with destination countries until August last year.


“We hope this is just the start of the return of all the airlines we had serving Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland before the pandemic,” Seo said, adding that the China market’s return would be “a welcome boost to a beleaguered hotel industry.”

 

In March, the industry registered a 36 percent average occupancy rate among 12 major hotels that form the HANMI network.

 

Seo said the resumption of Hong Kong Airlines' service will accelerate the CNMI’s economic recovery.

While welcoming Chinese travelers back to the CNMI, Seo also expressed support for the CNMI government’s initiatives to diversify the market sources.


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The Koreans currently dominate the CNMI tourism market while Japan’s return to pre-pandemic levels remains uncertain.


“We must continue our efforts to broaden our reach and attract visitors from diverse regions, including China,” Seo said.


However, he said the CNMI may only see the pre-pandemic flight levels if the U.S. Department of Transportation grants the Commonwealth Port Authority’s request for reinstating Annex VI of the U.S.-China Civil Air Transport Agreement.

 

Annex VI exempted the CNMI from flight frequency limitations between the U.S. and China.

 

HANMI reported a total of 26,205 of 73,394 available room nights that were sold by HANMI member hotels in March this year, compared to 17,058 of 63,085 sold in March 2023. Average room rates were $112.04 compared to $132.69 last March.


“We extend our heartfelt appreciation to Hong Kong Airlines for their commitment to the Marianas,” said Seo. 


“We also express gratitude to the government, including the Marianas Visitors Bureau, for their strong initiatives aimed at expanding and diversifying our tourism market sources," he added.





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