Guam, Saipan anticipate surge in travel demand from Japan

Photo: Visit the Marianas

Slowing reemerging from their Covid-triggered hiatus, Japanese travelers are getting ready to board the plane again, with Guam and Saipan on top of their destination list this summer.

The promising summer travel demand has prompted United Airlines to boost its service between Japan and Guam/Saipan to 59 weekly flights effective 26 March, increasing seat capacity by 17 percent compared to the 2019 summer sale schedule.

United is optimistic despite the remaining bumps that impede the Japanese market’s speedy recovery.

During his meeting with the Guam Visitors Bureau earlier this month, Hiroyuki Takahashi, chairman of the Japanse Travel Association, noted the remaining challenges ahead of the industry such as a weaker yen, higher travel cost and inflation in each destination.

But Sam Shinohara, United’s managing director of airport operations in Asia Pacific, is confident of the summer travel campaign’s potential outcome.

“With the new summer schedule, we are another step closer to our goal of restoring a full Guam-Japan schedule,” he said.

“Looking back to the start of the pandemic when tourism came to a halt, we continued to fly our Guam routes with the commitment of supporting the local community as well as the return of tourism to the region,” he added.

United said a total of 56 weekly flights are scheduled for all routes between Guam and Japan—Narita/Tokyo, Chubu/Nagoya, Kansai/Osaka and Fukuoka.

“In particular, United continues to strengthen the Narita-Guam route and will increase its flights from 18 to 25 flights per week and plans to operate up to four daily flights to meet strong passenger demand,” United said in a press release.

Noting that United will be celebrating 55 years as Guam’s hometown airline this year, Shinohara said “increasing capacity between Japan and Guam is vital to Guam’s tourism industry.”

On Saipan, United has been operating three flights a week between Narita and Saipan since September.

United has enhanced its media promotional project with the Marianas Visitors Authority to pitch the island to the Japanese travelers.

The carrier has partnered with the MVA on two broadcasts by nationwide travel show “Tabi Salad,” produced by Asahi Broadcasting Corp. in January, generating $2.7 million ad exposure value for the CNMI.

“The ‘Tabi Salad’ production idea was first initiated by United Airlines, and as a result of the MVA’s media pitch to the production company and United Airlines’ air support for the film crew, we were able to bring the production to Saipan and gain tremendous exposure through the two episodes aired,” said Judy C. Torres, MVA acting manager. “We saw a clear uptick in inquires and bookings after the shows.”

The MVA said its official website in Japan receives an average 1,600-2,000 page views per day. After the first broadcast on Jan. 14, the site had 3,200page views in a singleday, and afterthe second broadcast on 21 January, the site had 8,700 page views. 

MVA said United also reported 500 new bookings for travel to Saipan.

“We understand the importance of this direct service to residents and how it provides support for the recovery of the tourism industry,” Shinohara said. “We are very pleased with the attention the travel show has garnered for the CNMI, and our United PR and Sales teams in Japan will continue to find opportunities to promote the CNMI as a top destination for travel.”

Japan has for decades been the main market for Guam and the CNMI tourism but arrivals came to a halt as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic that paused World travel.

Japan Airlines resumed direct service between Tokyo/Narita and Guam last year.

Despite the unshuterring of borders, however, the market has been too slow to recover due to the Japanese citizens’ reluctance to travel abroad, sparked by a linger fear of the coronavirus compounded by a weak currency.

Guam and the CNMI have been reinforcing their marketing campaigns in a bid to recoup the market and lure the Japanese back to the islands.

The Japan Association of Travel Agents has been mounting its pitch as well to get Japanese tourists back on the plane.

The Guam Visitors Bureau projected more than 130,000 Japanese visitors to come to Guam in fiscal 2023.

“While those projections are conservative, the renewed commitment by JATA and Guam’s airline partners to promote Guam makes the return of the Japan market very promising,” GVB said.

“Guam is looking to see an overall increase in arrivals by the end of the fiscal year with 670,000 visitors (+104% from FY22) with airlines and travel agents working alongside GVB to encourage outbound travel.” Takahashi told GVB that the JATA board will look into developing the once-thriving Japanese student market for Guam, airline partnerships to include the return of flights from Japan Airlines in the spring, and sustainable development goals.