GARAPAN Saipan — For the first time since 1996 the Marianas Visitors Authority will be going to the Russian far east to conduct seminars in three cities and participate in an international travel fair as part of efforts to further tap into the Russian tourism market.

The move came following the successful chartered flight from Khabarovsk — the first of its kind — on Jan. 3 that brought in 130 tourists. The tour was facilitated by the Marianas Visitors Authority Belka Tours a Saipan-based travel agency;  travel agencies in Russia and Dal Avia Airlines.

Elly Stoilova chairwoman of the Marianas Visitors Authority Russian Ad Hoc Committee and manager for Pacific Islands Club Saipan’s Russian Market Division; told the Journal that there is a “potential possibility” for a second chartered flight from April 20 to May 9 also from Khabarovsk.

Marianas Visitor Authority representatives will be visiting the cities of Yugno Sakhalinsk Khabarovsk and Vladivostok starting on April 2 to conduct familiarization seminars about the Northern Mariana Islands to various travel and tour agencies there. She said they would be bringing materials including Russian-language brochures about the NMI.

“Our main target is to provide more information about NMI to all these cities from where right now our main customers are; to bring more awareness; to work directly and face to face with travel industry partners; to try to boost the travel demand for Saipan Tinian and Rota and support interest for a chartered flight ” Stoilova said. “There is a potential possibility to have another Saipan chartered flight from Khabarovsk from April 20 to May 9 but it all depends on demand. The travel agencies and airline who put together the first flight they’re businessmen. They said ‘If there is demand there will be a chartered flight ’” she said.

Following the seminars the Marianas Visitors Authority group will head to Novosibirsk Siberia to attend the TurSib’07 (Tour Siberia) International Travel Fair from April 12 to the 14. The Marianas Visitors Authority delegation would then be joined by representatives from PIC Saipan Fiesta Resort & Spa Hyatt Regency Saipan Aqua Resort Club and Marianas Resort & Spa Stoilova said.

She said approximately 200 travel and tour agencies are expected to attend the event.  “So far we are the only island destination at the travel fair. So we hope that there will be a big interest about the NMI.”

Stoilova said the last time the Guam Visitors Authority visited Russia was in 1996. Following a series of economic downturn in 1998 the country’s tourism industry slowed down.  Efforts to bring in more visitors from Russia has gone into high gear in the past few years. Marianas Visitors Authority data showed that the number of visitors from Russia has increased from 960 in 2004 to 2 000 in 2005 and approximately 1 500 in 2006. 

According to Stoilova some 2 700 Russian visitors to NMI are expected this year. MBJ