Gutierrez: Guam tourism to officially ‘reopen’ July 1 to Japan, Taiwan, Korea

Tourists at the Guam airport. GVB has asked Adelup for help in sustaining its PCR testing program for tourists. (PNC file photo)

Former governor and current Guam Visitors Bureau interim president Carl Gutierrez has confirmed with the Pacific News Center that the island will start welcoming tourists back as of July 1.

In essence, “starting tourism” means lifting the mandatory 14-day quarantine for travelers from Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.

There was some uncertainty around whether Guam would follow through with its previously announced July 1 date. However, Gutierrez said Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero is expected to make an official announcement shortly. In addition, an official letter will go out to all ministries shortly.

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“I just got off a regular Zoom call with the Governor and there were rumors that the date would be pushed back to July 15, but she quickly put that aside and said we’re going to open up on July 1,” said Gutierrez.

The GVB interim president told PNC that the industry knowing the date is crucial because tourism is not something that “turns on a dime” and needs a month to prepare for.

According to Gutierrez, GVB will be actively promoting videos of Guam in source markets to potential tourists. The videos, translated into respective languages, promote Guam as a safe destination, which has controlled its COVID levels and has strong safeguards in place (the video is being finalized and has not been released).

“So that’s the first video that we’re putting out: Guam is safe. And when we show that to our main marketplace, they will realize that we’re not playing games here, that we want to keep them safe, so that we can build that bubble between say Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.”

He says they’re planning a second video, which will be made when tourists begin coming so that potential tourists can see that Guam truly is a safe destination for them. He says tourists will be filmed enjoying the sights and sounds of the island, all while maintaining social distancing and other precautions.

While the optimism for restarting the tourist industry is high among industry-stakeholders, Gutierrez acknowledges that unless source markets lift their own quarantine restrictions as well, few people will actually decide to book a vacation.

He said conversations are active with Korean and Japanese counterparts to have a “reciprocity” between nations, allowing any visitor coming to Guam, to forego quarantine when they return home.

Gutierrez said no final decisions from source markets have been made with regards to the so-called “tourist bubble,” however he’s made the plight of Guam clear to officials he’s spoken to.

“They don’t officially tell you what’s going on but, unofficially they [country representatives on Guam] said they will try to carry the water for us to their government. That we are so dependent on tourists from their countries, for our economy, unlike them, they don’t depend on outside tourists, in Japan, as much as we do. So, they feel what we feel here right now and they’re an advocate for us.”

Guam’s tourism is the main industry on island and the majority of tourists originate from Japan and South Korea.

While Jeju Air, Japan Airlines and Korean Airlines have all delayed their resumption of Guam flights until later in July, Gutierrez said he’s encouraged by a Jin Air flight currently scheduled to arrive from Incheon, Korea on July 2.

That flight’s original seat capacity is 189 but with social distancing requirements, flights are only filling up to around 70% of their maximum capacity. For that Jin Air flight, that means potentially 130 seats filled.

“Even if the flights don’t fill up their maximum 70% capacity, even if we get 50 or 60, that’s good enough to use as a basis to sell that in a video sent back to the countries, that they’re enjoying life on Guam, safely.”

Gutierrez said flights from Taiwan and China would not resume until October, however, they’re preparing to market to get passengers on the flights.

Testing has been a contentious issue for potential incoming tourists. However, Gutierrez reiterated that the Governor has said that no COVID-testing will be done. Travelers will only be tested by thermal scanners already set up at the airport.

He said using tracing apps on phones could be utilized for incoming visitors, although not as crucial for smaller places like Guam.

“It’s good when you get into the millions in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan but on Guam, it’s a small area. And we know when you fly in, what your seat number is, how many people are in your family, what hotel you’re going to, what taxi you took…it’s about 90% stay in the Tumon area,” said Gutierrez.

While each country controls its own protocols for testing, Gutierrez said he hopes source markets follow the same procedures of thermal scanning all the outgoing passengers coming to Guam.

Tourists that do come will have to follow all local hygiene and safety protocols.

“And we won’t let them forget it because, when you enter and go into the hotel or restaurant, they’ll take your temperature,” said Gutierrez.

“We have that information dissemination from the airport on, before they even leave Korea or Japan, they’ll have that information of what it’s going to be like when you’re in Guam and we want to make it as pleasant as possible.”

Gutierrez says unlike other countries that have strong domestic markets, Guam is heavily reliant on tourist traffic to drive our economy. He believes our source countries have a role to play in ensuring that survival.

“We’re trying to convince them that the relationship we have also is very important. They have a consulate here and the consulate needs to know that we are dependent on them and they need to go to bat for us with their government.”

And the interim GVB president said this is a turning point for the island, and Guam should be picking quality over quantity, when it comes to tourists.

“Everyone was vying for the cheapest and the highest numbers of people coming here. We’re trying to make sure that the people coming here are the ones we want coming here who’ll spend money here and not just hold space in a hotel or a BnB.”

The former governor is encouraging island residents to use the downtime to spruce up the community, in preparation for tourists.

The GVB is organizing an island clean-up for next Saturday, June 27. So far, over 600 people have volunteered.