Senator Amanda L. Shelton, the legislative chairwoman on tourism, held an informational hearing on tourism recovery efforts with the Guam Visitors Bureau (GVB) on Tuesday morning. The hearing is the third in a series of informational hearings focused on the reopening and recovery of the tourism industry.
During the hearing, the GVB management team said they remain hopeful that tourism will eventually return to Guam, albeit at a very gradual pace.
Although pre-pandemic visitor arrivals are not slated to be met until 2023 or 2024, GVB remains hopeful and will continue to lay the groundwork for a successful return—forecasting visitor arrivals to number between 85,000 and 130,000 in FY2022.
“We still believe Guam is a safe destination because of the high vaccination rate—I hear that we’re nearing 90 percent now; secondly, we have a very robust detection and contract tracing strategy; and more importantly, we have more widespread COVID-19 safety protocols that are in place,” GVB Vice President Gerry Perez said.
GVB also hopes visitors will return as vaccination rates in source markets continue to improve, with Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and Taiwan rates on the rise. The bureau also relayed recent encouraging news for Guam’s traditional visitor source markets:
· Japan lifted its state of emergency due to the precipitous drop in nationwide daily cases 25,000 in August to just 553 by October 10;
· Korea will consider lifting COVID-19 restrictions once 80% adult population and 90% elderly population vaccinated forecasted for late October; and
· Market surveys indicate pent-up demand increasing as pandemic restrictions/situation eases.
With a budget of $19.4 million for fiscal year 2022, GVB said it plans to dedicate funds to an aggressive campaign to bring tourists back to Guam and aid in the recovery of the tourism sector. GVB plans to use 70 percent of its budget for marketing and research focused on engaging with emerging opportunities; 10 percent for destination development to ensure Guam remains an attractive destination; and 20 percent for administration to maintain the bureau’s institutional capacity to carry out recovery initiatives.
GVB also reported on plans currently underway to develop Guam’s tourism infrastructure. The Bureau of Statistics and Plans, in conjunction with GVB and the Department of Public Works, received $13.86 million in federal infrastructure funds for the revitalization of Matapang Beach Park, which includes the construction of stormwater infrastructure and new pavilions. GVB also announced its plans to shift the handling of their maintenance contracts from one contractor to multiple smaller contractors, offering opportunities for smaller businesses to enter the market.
“These are uncharted waters, and it is important that we meet the challenges of the changing tourism market with resilience,” said Senator Shelton. “With the bureau’s leadership and industry expertise, I remain confident that Guam’s tourism industry will bounce back and do so prepared for any disasters the future may hold.”
GVB also outlined their main initiatives for tourism recovery, which focus on destination preparations, scaling up COVID-19 vaccination programs, and communicating with traditional source markets on Guam’s efforts to ensure safe destination status.
The bureau initially forecasted 201,000 visitors for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021; however, pandemic conditions locally and throughout Guam’s source markets have contributed to low numbers stemming from consumer concerns, citing that many have no plans to travel until the end of the pandemic. The island saw roughly 60,000 visitor arrivals in FY2021, which was composed of visitors from military exercises and other non-traditional markets.
“The future may pose additional challenges to our tourism industry, and we should be well prepared for them. The Guam Visitors Bureau is instrumental in this role, and I have faith that those at the helm will weather us through this uncertain storm,” said Senator Shelton. “I thank my colleagues and our GVB partners for being part of this process.”
Rethink current tourism model
Meanwhile, Senator Telo Taitague said the pandemic may require GVB to retool and reorientate the tourism industry, re-envisioning Guam’s position within our region through creative marketing techniques and digital marketing.
“We need to reinvent our tourism in order to retain and enhance Guam’s competitiveness over other destinations,” Taitague said in a news release.
She added: “The crisis forces us to rethink the current model. If we are not prepared to rebrand and fix our Guam product, we will find ourselves ill-placed to compete with other opportunistic destinations. It is time to reinvent and rethink Guam’s tourism trajectory.”