The recent strategy shift toward regional marketing has seen its share of adoptees and among those has been Continental Micronesia.

Operating in two parts the strategy seeks to promote greater intra-Marianas travel and tourism while simultaneously marketing the Marianas region as a whole to the broader international tourism market.

Walter B. Dias staff vice president of sales and marketing for Continental Micronesia told the Journal “As the regional hometown carrier we believe in marketing the region. We think it gets more visibility for the area versus marketing Guam or marketing Saipan. Especially the further away you get from Micronesia it’s very important to show some critical mass when you’re marketing yourself to these other origin markets.”

Bisita Marianas a collaborative effort between the Marianas Visitors Bureau Guam Visitors Bureau and more than 75 regional businesses is an effort to promote intra-Marianas travel. “One of the things GVB noticed when looking at their statistics is that despite a lack of marketing specific to the region’s locals there is a good number of visitors from the CNMI coming in to Guam ” Dias said. What developed is an incentive program to encourage visitors from throughout Micronesia to visit the other islands through a series of air fare lodging and entertainment discounts and promotions. While the program was only in its sixth week as the Journal went to press on July 7 Dias said the recent 14% increase in CNMI arrivals suggests that the program “seems to be working.”

In addition to Bisita Marianas Continental has implemented programs to market travel to the Marianas from Australia and the U.S. mainland. It has participated in a number of familiarization tours bringing dive-shop owners travel TV shows and magazines to the region to promote it as a travel destination. The focus on dive-shop owners is especially important Dias said “Because a lot of the dive travel is actually sold through dive stores.”

Teaming up with other players in the regional tourism industry Continental has also produced an annual brochure Continental Airlines Holidays promoting vacations and activities within the Micronesian islands. The efforts have begun to yield results as Continental has seen its outbound travel market from Australia expand to nearly 33% of its seating volume into Guam. “In a couple of months last year we actually had more market share than Qantas to Hawaii (from) North Queensland.”

Continental has added numerous flights to its route structures to accommodate high regional travel volume over the summer. Part of these increases included the addition of an eighth Guam-Honolulu flight leaving Wednesday mornings and a fourth island-hopper flight operating on Saturdays. The Guam-Honolulu flight represents a 14% increase in seat-volume for that route while the island hopper represents a 33% increase in seat volume Dias said.

The airline has hopes that it can build the travel market to sustain these additional flights. By “working with the Micronesian governments in the various islands ” he said Continental hopes to “be able to increase enough demand to justify flying four [weekly island-hopper flights] year-round.”

The company is celebrating its first anniversary for the Continental Connection program Continental Micronesia’s affiliation with Cape Air to provide service between Guam Rota and Saipan. This affiliation allowed Continental to increase its seating volume to Rota totaling a 48% increase in seating volume for the aggregate program.

Continental recently on March 18 became the second American airline to have direct flights to China the result of a series of negotiations and changes made to the U.S.-China Bilateral Treaty for aviation. Flights between Beijing and Newark Liberty International commenced on June 16. Dias said “Although that doesn’t touch Micronesia right now we look at it as part of that development phase not only for New York City and the U.S. but also eventually for Micronesia because this route represents the first time a new U.S. carrier has been allowed into the China market in the last 30 years.”

During the negotiations Continental approached the U.S. Department of Transportation with a proposal to exclude Micronesia from route-cap restrictions specified within the treaty. Dias said the DOT adopted the proposal as part of its negotiation position but the Chinese government failed to agree on the additional terms. Regardless Dias said “We’re building a foundation for us to open a market up for Guam when the opportunity comes up.”

Continental is basing its expectations on its experience in Japan. Prior to 1999 Continental did not have a notable frequent flier program operating in Japan typically utilized by business travelers cashing in on mileage for leisure-time travel. With the opening of routes from Narita to Newark and Narita to Houston business volume expanded and the airline has corporate contracts with major companies like Nissan Honda Motors and Goldman Sachs. Continental used this opportunity to promote its One-Pass program with a corresponding effort to encourage travel to Micronesia. The result Dias said has been that the Japanese One-Pass program has “increased exponentially over the last five years since the starting of the U.S. mainland service. Japan’s one-pass membership base has become the largest membership base outside of the U.S. which it wasn’t five years ago — it was miniscule. China’s in the same boat as Japan was five years ago and we hope that this will help expand that process.” MBJ