Japan Airlines will begin charter flights to the Marshall Islands in the coming months with two fully booked flights — one in February and another in March — and many more expected in the near future.

“The Marshall Islands Visitor’s Authority is working closely with Japan Air to obtain an upcoming schedule ” Satoshi Yoshii appointed Marshall Islands Visitor’s Authority board representative and owner of Marshall Island Tours Inc.; said. “This could be very good for the Marshall Islands economy and everyone is looking forward to this ” he said.

Many hotel and resort improvements are taking place in anticipation of the influx in tourism.

“Some hotels are doubling their maintenance staff and some are renovating to add up to 20 rooms in preparation for the tourists ” Yoshii said. “The services offered are also being improved.” Yoshii said Serendipper Resort a private island located within Majuro’s lagoon installed environmentally friendly solar panels and wind generators.

“Japan Air expects a high demand and is actively working to initiate and stimulate interest among Japanese tourists ” Kenji Morita administration and sales manager of Japan Air said. “Of these booked flights scuba divers and those interested in trying [diving] for the first time make up about 90% of the passengers. Following the initial tours we expect a high demand especially for Golden Week.” Golden Week is a combination of Japanese holidays starting in late April and continuing into May for which many Japanese residents choose to travel.

The length of stay for these two flights is five days more than the Guam Visitor’s Bureau calculated for 2006; on average the same demographic on Guam only stayed for three days.

Bill Weza general manager of the Marshall Islands Resort said “This is an outstanding addition.” He said “We have been trying to get more flights out here for the past five years and specifically from Japan for the last two. We have about 200 guests per flight and it’s a five-day four-night stay. The [$1 350 round-trip] airline tickets sold out in just six hours. There’s an infinite potential here.”

Some other airlines have apparently been taking notice of the Marshall Islands as well. According to Weza Continental Airlines beginning in February will be servicing direct flights to the islands as opposed to the ‘Island Hopper’ packages it has been offering which include other island destinations bundled together. Weza said he hopes greater recognition will be brought to the Marshall Islands.

“I can see other airlines coming here ” Weza said. “The Japanese have really loved the diving here in the past. We just can’t wait to see what happens. I think the pricing is right and we have a lot to offer. We’re not quite like Guam we’re not quite like FSM [the Federated States of Micronesia] and we’re not quite like Palau. We want people to come see our great visibility and beautiful beaches for themselves.”  MBJ