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Northern Mariana Islands courting Taiwanese visitors

TAIPEI--The Marianas Visitors Authority is launching a series of campaigns this year aimed at doubling the number of Taiwanese travelers to the Northern Mariana Islands.

About 500 Taiwanese citizens visited the United States commonwealth in the Western Pacific last year, said Eileen Chen, marketing executive at the authority's Taiwan Representative Office, on Friday.

The office, which opened last October, has set a goal of restoring Taiwanese arrivals to the islands to the levels seen in the 1990s, when around 10,000 Taiwan passport holders would visit annually.

The number has plummeted over the past decade, which the Visitors Authority attributed to the 2007 closing of the Marianas representative office in Taiwan.

These days, Taiwan is among the smallest sources of tourists in East Asia for the islands, falling behind China, South Korea and Japan.

But Chen said that the commonwealth's relative obscurity is also one of its attractions. The Northern Marianas could be a good option for someone looking for an island retreat less traveled than popular hotspots like Guam and the Maldives, she advised.

One angle is playing up the islands as a romantic destination, as the Visitors Authority is seeking to do with a campaign that offers a romantic trip to the island of Tinian around Qixi Festival, also known as Chinese Valentine's Day.

Earlier this year, the islands launched an “intern program” which paid one lucky winner NT$60,000 (US$2,000) to travel around the islands for a week and receive training as a tour guide.

Chen said her office also hopes that direct flight services could be established between Taiwan and the islands. Currently, Taiwanese travelers have to transfer in Seoul, South Korea, the opposite direction of the islands that sit some 2,700 kilometers southeast of Taiwan.

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