BY JULIAN RYALL
TOKYO, Japan — On the Aug. 31 eve of the departure of the new United Airlines service between Japan and Saipan on Sept. 1, Gov. Ralph DLG.Torres told attendees at a reception at the ANA InterContinental Hotel in Tokyo that the resumption of regular flights on the route will “revitalize” the island’s tourism sector.
Taking the stage at the event — attended by more than 100 representatives of Japanese travel organizations, the media, the Marianas Visitors Authority and their partner companies, Torres emphasized the long-standing links between Japan and Saipan and looked to the future.
“Our relationship with United Airlines reaffirms this strong relationship as we look into the future and the revitalization of the CNMI market,” he said. “With the Marianas Visitors Authority and United Airlines establishing this route between Narita International Airport and Saipan, we can once again work on bringing Japanese visitors back to the Marianas,” he added.
“And we cannot wait to share the beauty of our islands once again,” the governor said.
Steve Knode, deputy senior commercial officer at the U.S. embassy in Tokyo, congratulated all the stakeholders on the launch of regular, non-stop services between Tokyo and Saipan, describing the development as “exciting.”
He also welcomed the Japanese government’s recent decision to drop the requirement that anyone entering Japan report a negative PCR test no less than 72 hours before departure.
“We are very hopeful that the easing of restrictions will spur travel – and what better place is there to travel than Saipan, for friends and family?” Knode said.
Toru Takahashi, managing director for Japan and Micronesia sales for United Airlines, told the Journal he is confident that anyone travelling to Saipan will enjoy all the opportunities to relax that the island offers — from world-class diving to golf, dining out and simply relaxing — but sounded a note of caution on expanding the service from three days a week at present.
“Our first mission is to be successful with three flights a week,” he said.
“Then we need to see how the market is developing. At the moment, it is too early to make a decision on more flights, but we can say that once we do have success then we can think about more flights.”
Torres was accompanied on his mission to Tokyo by David DLG. Atalig, secretary of finance for the Northern Mariana Islands, Rep. Roy C. Ada and members of the Marianas Visitors Authority, including Ellsbeth Viola Alepuyo, chairwoman of the MVA board, and Priscilla M. Iakopo, managing director of MVA.
The first tourists on the flight are accompanied by Japanese travel agents and journalists. The NMI VIPs were scheduled to travel to Narita airport on the afternoon of Sept. 1 for a ribbon cutting ceremony for the inaugural flight.
The flight — UA825 — was due to take off at 9.25 p.m. local time on Sept. 1 and land in Saipan at 2 a.m. on Sept. 2, where its about 75 passengers will be met by local dignitaries and a ceremony to mark the arrival of the opening of the route. An event is scheduled the evening of Sept. 2 at the Hyatt Regency Saipan. mbj