Guam Visitors Bureau Predicts Slump in Tourist Arrivals

Arrivals from Japan will be down this summer by more than 20 percent, according to the Guam Visitors Bureau.

In a briefing on the state of tourism on Guam before the Committee on Municipal Affairs, Tourism, Housing and Recreation, representatives from the Guam Visitors Bureau presented a forecast for Guam’s tourism industry, and held a discussion on ways to maximize the island’s tourism potential in the aftermath of the disasters in Japan.

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan caused $300 billion in damage and killed more than 26,000 people, according to The Associated Press. More than 100,000 people are still without proper shelter following the disaster, and the threat of radiation contamination from the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power facility has exacerbated the humanitarian and economic toll.

On Guam, the disaster has contributed to a slump in the tourism economy, according to GVB.

Arrivals from Japan are projected to drop 27 percent by the end of this month, with June and July potentially decreasing by 24 and 21 percent, respectively, according to numbers provided by the visitors bureau.

March 2011 showed a 1-percent decline in total visitors, but arrivals from Japan showed a decline of 7.5 percent, from 90,312 in March 2010 to 83,539 in March of this year. Arrivals by air showed a greater decline, with visitors from Japan decreasing from 55,325 to 48,759, or 11.9 percent.

April, which was expected to be the hardest-hit month from the Japan disaster, showed a more precipitous decline in arrivals from last year, with 70,814 visitors coming to the island. That’s 14.4 percent fewer visitors than last year. Arrivals from Japan dropped 18.3 percent during the same time period, from 59,629 in April 2010 to 48,689 this year.

During the legislative briefing yesterday, Joann Camacho, GVB’s general manager, discussed strategies to expand tourist arrivals from other areas, including getting a visa-waiver program for tourists from China and Russia, taking advantage of federal laws to expedite travel, expanding branding initiatives such as the Hafa Adai pledge program and village tours, and using social media to market Guam off island. To help fill the gap in between tourist seasons, Camacho also said the island could leverage itself as a destination for conference and business travel.

Micronesia airpass

Camacho also highlighted current business initiatives that could give Guam a boost to travel, including a new program: Star Alliance Micronesia Airpass. The program allows travelers to purchase up to 10 regional flights on the Continental Airlines and United network in a single ticket.

Mark Baldyga, founder and chief executive officer of the Baldyga Group and a member of the GVB board, said one of the biggest hurdles facing Guam in expanding its tourist market is its reputation as a budget destination.

“We’ve allowed ourselves to become a commoditized, 99-cent-store marketplace, frankly,” said Baldyga. “We’re selling Guam as a bargain-basement destination, and we’re attracting that kind of tourist consequently, who doesn’t spend any money, who has their dinner from noodle soup and ABC Stores, or, how more recently, they pack it in their luggage.”

Baldyga said marketing the Chamorro culture should be a central strategy in leveraging Guam’s uniqueness. The Baldyga Group is developing a 25-acre eco-tourism park at Gun Beach, the first phase of which is slated to open in June. The park is expected to showcase Chamorro culture to tourists through traditional demonstrations, exhibits, a nature walk, and artifact presentation. The Group has invested a couple of million dollars toward the 10-year lease for the $40 million property, Baldyga said.

Baldyga also emphasized the need to fix infrastructure in Tumon, which will be paid for out of a $100 million bond recently borrowed for tourism upgrades.

In response to a discussion on marketing Guam as a high-end vacation destination, Sen. Ben Pangelinan questioned whether Guam could meet the expectations of upscale travelers, particularly those from the emerging Chinese market.

Source: Guam PDN

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