Korean Air may begin offering charter flights using a B-747 type of aircraft beginning July with the growing interest of tourists from Korea to visit the CNMI, said Dave M. Sablan, chairman of the Marianas Visitors Authority.
Although Korean Air cannot immediately commit to provide regular flights from Seoul to Saipan, it has pledged to study the market so that it can resume service, he said. The airline has been the CNMI’s partner for 14 years before it stopped operation two years ago.
Sablan recently arrived from a three-day meeting with executives of Korean Air and Asiana Airlines in Seoul together with Perry Tenorio, managing director, Bart Jackson, vice-chairman of the MVA board finance committee and Helene Lizama, Ms. CNMI-Universe.
Visitor arrivals in the Northern Marianas drastically declined since the pullout of Korean Air in August 1997 due to the tragic crash on nearby island Guam where 230 people were killed. Korean Air used to ferry an average of 12,000 passengers to the CNMI.
Tourism officials have tried to convince Korean Air to resume service but the collapse of the Korean economy led the airline executives to suspend service indefinitely.
On the other hand, Asiana Air may “split the destination” by providing a B-767 for Saipan alone starting July due to the increasing arrivals from Korea. Currently, Asiana uses one aircraft to provide daily service to Saipan and Guam from Seoul. Last year, Asiana increased its flights to accommodate the influx of Korean tourists from Seoul during the honeymoon season.
“There are strong indications that both airlines will provide charters to service the honeymoon market during Spring and Autumn,” said Sablan. MVA also met with top 10 Korean travel agents in Seoul where they asked for their assistance in marketing the Northern Marianas.
MVA officials met with Asiana executives led by Kwang Hee Ryu, general manager for passenger marketing and sales, Cahn Bup Park, senior executive vice president and Korean Air regional manager H.K. Lee, general manager K.S. Kim.
The Northern Marianas still maintain its visibility in Korea despite the limited budget for promotion hoping in a bid to revive the ailing tourism economy. With Asia’s financial crisis, the CNMI now depends on Japan alone for its main source of tourist.