The Northern Mariana Islands must ease its quarantine requirements and secure more flights in order to entice the Japanese tourists back to the islands and resuscitate the market, according to the top executive of a tour agency.
“The CNMI is a very important and fascinating destination with its beautiful nature and rich culture. Unfortunately, the number of visitors from Japan has dropped sharply as there are no direct flights," said Hiroari Kamimori, president of Tasi Tours & Transportation.
"With the revival of direct flights, there will be an urgent need to revive the status as a top-level ‘Ankintan’ destination,” Kamimori added.
Tourism is the CNMI's main economic driver and Japan had been its top market.
The Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers has identified critical components in The Marianas’ efforts to rebuild its tourism economy, get people back to work, and generate revenue that was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
A major focus for tourism stakeholders is re-engaging the Japan market as the islands prepare to safely re-open their borders.
CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres said the commonwealth is targeting a safe reopening of the Japan market later this year.
" Through the careful planning and engagement with our vital partners in Japan, we remain hopeful that we can have a steady stream of Japanese visitors in the years to come and reaffirm the special bond between Japan and The Marianas," the governor said after his meeting with Kamimori Friday.
Kamimori assured Torres that Tasi Tours supports the CNMI in rebuilding the tourism industry, which has been on pause due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Tasi Tours has been operating in the CNMI for the last 45 years.
Kamimori took the helm of the longest-running travel agency in Micronesia early this year, replacing Masato Tezuka, who retired in 2020. Kamimori is also the president T.P. Micronesia, Inc. in Guam.
Since taking over the operations of JTB Corp.’s companies in Saipan and Guam, Kamimori said he has been keeping tabs on the region’s tourism resumption plans.
He mentioned two key areas that he hopes to see the Marianas work on to entice Japanese visitors back to Rota, Tinian and Saipan – easing of quarantine requirements for visitors and increasing the availability of direct flights from Japan to Saipan.
Delta’s direct flights were abolished in 2018, while Skymark Airlines went into service at the end of 2019.
"However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, direct flights from Japan have been suspended. In the future, in order to accept tourists from Japan, it is necessary to relax the conditions for quarantine and restore direct flight services,” Kamimori added.
Kamimori said the restoration of direct service between Japan and Saipan will help The Marianas gain “Ankintan” status, a term used to describe destinations that are a short distance from Japan and offer affordable pricing and short stays.
The Tasi Tours executive also called on The Marianas to support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that JTB has been promoting after the initiative was adopted by the United Nations in September 2015.
SDGs encourage industry stakeholders to practice sustainable tourism by protecting the environment and its resources, preserving cultural values and heritage, and maximizing contributions to the development of sustainable local communities.
“Learning about SDGs initiatives has become an essential part of an educational trip from Japan. Visits to the CNMI can greatly enhance the effectiveness of learning the SDGs and may generate new demand,” Kamimori said.
“In addition, we will establish stable fundamentals that can contribute to the CNMI in the medium- to long-term, such as securing employment and building win-win relationships with business partners.”
Torres recognized Japan as one of The Marianas’ key partners in the tourism industry, and having a trusted company like JTB’s Tasi Tours around for more than 40 years provides the Commonwealth with a positive outlook in its efforts to bring Japanese visitors back to the islands.
“We look forward to working closely with JTB and Tasi Tours to get travel safely back on track and provide their customers with new multi-island travel opportunities and valuable experiences,” the governor said.