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Friday 30 July 2021

Forget Bali; Saipan may soon be calling Australian tourists

A remote and tiny US-run Pacific island with around 50,000 people hopes to replace Bali as a favourite with Australian tourists.

Saipan, an island that has variously been a Spanish, German and Japanese colony, is just six hours from Brisbane and hopes to become a new hub for Australian tourists seeking sunshine.

With 70% of adults on the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands fully vaccinated against Covid-19, Saipan hopes to soon welcome Australian visitors.

Travellers with long memories might recall Saipan and Guam being destinations visited by Continental Airlines from Australian ports.

And with the virus running rampant in Bali, Saipan hopes to offer a safe and attractive alternative for Australians when international travel returns.

A new airline, Marianas Pacific, aims to operate services between Saipan and Australia.

The chairman of Marianas Pacific, Neil Hansford, says it is likely health authorities will allow Australians to travel to Saipan far earlier than other popular tourist destinations like Indonesia or the Philippines, due to the island’s success managing Covid-19.

“They have an excellent resort structure there with over 3000 rooms,” he said. “The economy is dependent on tourism so they’re doing something to get their way out of it.”

Diving is a key attraction in the former World War II battleground, site of fierce fighting in 1944. Suicide Cliff is where many Japanese civilians and soldiers jumped off of the high cliffs rather than surrender to the American forces in the last days of the battle for Saipan.

There are underwater caves and caverns to explore, wrecks, coral reefs, wall- and drop-off dives to be done. Perhaps the most visited and famous site is “The Grotto”.

It is consistently ranked as one of the best dives in the Pacific, and one of the top submarine cavern sites in the world.

The airline plans to operate as a United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved scheduled service air carrier, allowing unrestricted worldwide operations.

Marianas Pacific’s planned operations will provide 52 flights a week on seven niche routes in the next three years using three US-registered Boeing 757-200 aircraft.

The planned routes will be accessible to over 313 million people in four countries within a 6 hour 15 minutes flying time of Saipan.

The airline says a cornerstone of the plan is to provide direct links to Saipan from Australia, a high-yield tourism market that the Marianas Visitors Authority (MVA) has sought direct access to for many years.

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