The Japanese population of more or less 1,000 in the CNMI are expected to take a direct hit once Delta Air Lines pulls out of the CNMI market in May.
The number does not even include local residents who are of Chamorro/Japanese descent who still have strong family ties with their relatives in Japan that makes them travel back and forth.
Windsurfing Saipan instructor Haromito Ono, who is originally from Tokyo, Japan, has been on Saipan for 22 years and predicts irreparable harm to Japanese businesses in the CNMI due to the airline’s pullout.
“This pending pullout will cause big damage to Japanese-owned businesses on Saipan like scuba diving, windsurfing, to name a few, because 80 percent of our customers are Japanese tourists. …Some businesses get 100 percent Japanese tourists. …Japanese visitors will really drop because we rely on Delta to bring in the Japanese and the business they bring to the island,” he said.
Delta blamed low demand in the Micronesian market for its decision to pull the plug on service flights from Narita to Saipan and Narita to Palau effective May 6.
“The Japanese tourists can still come but imagine the travel they will have to go through—it’s either they pass through Guam or Incheon [Korea]…Personally, I am from Tokyo and I take the Delta flight because it is a direct flight. Now that they are pulling out, we have no option but to take another airline that makes you spend more time, money, and energy,” Ono added.
Hiroko Stewart, a resident of Capital Hill, is very disappointed about Delta’s pending pullout.
“My husband and I fly Delta regularly every 2-3 months for more than 10 years and even when the route was still under Northwest Airlines so when we received the news that Delta is ending flights to Saipan, we were disappointed,” she said.
“We are also Delta high mileage members and now we are faced with the question: How are we going to use this now? Delta has not informed us as mileage members of the Delta pullout on Saipan,” she added.
Stewart believes that this circumstance could have been prevented.
“I believe that the government, the Marianas Visitors Authority, and other agencies could have prevented this… In recent years, we can see that the Japanese market is not a high priority anymore in the CNMI… they shifted their focus to other tourists,” she said.
“We should always look back [to] what brought us here today. We must respect our historical ties, culture, and close relationship… The very strong ties that the Japanese people have in the CNMI and local Japanese descendants were not carefully thought of,” she added.
Despite her disappointment, Stewart is hopeful that the CNMI government will have a better strategy in the future.
“My cousins spent their honeymoon here on Saipan and they kept coming back every year for 30 years. They love to stay at Aqua Resort [Club] because of the environment—beautiful beach, ambiance, and service. Now it’s going to be inconvenient for them to come here because there is no direct flight,” she said.
“Attract the Japanese market back by re-investing in the island and that is to give back your focus on the Japanese market and provide win-win benefits for them and for us living on island,” she added.
A Japanese businesswoman and salon owner who has been on Saipan since 2001 said the ball is now in the CNMI government’s court to make the next move.
“This move must be relevant to attract the Japanese market so that even though we lose the direct flights to Japan, they will still find it better to come here rather than anywhere else. My friends from Japan say that they would rather go to Guam and Hawaii when Delta pulls out,” she said.
“To bring quality people on island, we must offer quality services. Currently, hotel prices are high but [hotels] needs improvement. We have old buses that carry tourists around and we experience traffic. I understand that economy is getting better little by little but so must services,” she added.
A CNMI delegation led by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres had just come from Tokyo where they met Delta officials to convince them to sustain the route. The decision, however, to pull out of the CNMI is being attributed to Delta’s office in the U.S. mainland.