TOKYO, May 27 — The tiny Pacific island of Saipan is to launch an airline on July 1 with the intention of bringing in an extra 50,000 tourists a year to the tropical paradise. Saipan Air is to initially operate daily flights to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport and four flights every week to Beijing. From August, the airline will add daily flights to Osaka, Japan’s second city, and three flights on the route linking the island with the Chinese city of Shenyang.
The company will initially operate a 193-seat Boeing 757-200 and a Boeing 737-400 and plans to add routes to Hong Kong, Taipei and the Japanese cities of Nagoya and Fukuoka in the near future.
The airline will automatically become the flag carrier of the Northern Marianas Islands, which are officially a commonwealth of the United States. At just 19 km long, Saipan is the largest of the 15 islands that make up the chain and, thanks to its relative proximity to Japan and South Korea, has long been a popular destination for visitors from those two nations.
Most tourists to Saipan are honeymooners and families with young children who want a beach vacation. The growing emergence of a wealthy middle class in China is expected to generate a new source of visitors to the island, so Saipan Air is keen to take advantage of that market.
Speaking at a meeting in Saipan, Jerry Tan, president of Tan Holdings, the owner of the airline, said the islands will struggle to improve its tourism industry unless it has a stable and reliable air service.
Tan said the new airline will bring in some 50,000 additional visitors a year, which will inject an extra US$100 million (RM260 million) into the islands’ economy.
Some 369,000 people visited the Marianas in 2011, down from more than 418,000 in 1990 and a long way below the nearly 727,000 who arrived in the peak year of 1997.
“Today, anywhere you go in the world, you will run into Chinese tourists and every government is courting the Chinese tourists,” said Tan. “That, actually, is the most important market in the near future.” — Afp-Relaxnews