Guam- With Chinese visitors named the biggest spenders amongst other travelers, Guam is learning to gain a better understanding of this tourism market and how the China Visa Waiver Program can help.
Industry leaders from Guam and China were brought together at the Hyatt Resort Wednesday for the China Outbound Travel Market Symposium. The event is sponsored by the Guam Visitors Bureau (GVB) and focuses on how Guam can capture china’s outbound travel market and gain a better understanding of the Chinese traveler.
GVB General Manager Karl Pangelinan says the symposium had a great turnout as tourism officials listened to the latest trends, travel policies, high end profiles and China Visa Waiver Program updates.
“Whether we get the visa waiver or not, it’s been GVB’s pledge to attract the China visitor, even the already visaed visitor,” said Pangelinan. “So I think they got a lot of insightful knowledge just about what to expect from the markets.”
He also talks about how tourism officials are tracking a new potential law in China that may affect Guam. Pangelinan notes China wants a published group itinerary to actually be followed.
“A lot of tour companies have gone outside of that,” said Pangelinan. “This is really just to protect the integrity of the visit by these travelers and to be sure what they signed up for really is truly what they’re receiving from an experienced stand point.”
Numerous guest speakers also shared their perspectives on how the island’s tourism industry can prepare for the China market .
HH Travel Operating Officer Guo Min says there is an $11 billion dollar opportunity with catering to high end Chinese travelers. He says even if Guam can take a percentage of this and understand “personalized service with in-depth experience”, it will be to the island’s benefit.
“This is the total capacity we estimated from the high end Chinese tourism,” said Min. “How much we can benefit from this…1%, 2%.”
DFS Executive Vice President Jim Beighley says Guam has been leading the China Visa Waiver Program initiative for about 4 years now. While the big break through was Russia last year, the island still waits for Washington D.C. to make a decision.
“There’s a number of issues that still have to be worked through…logistical issues, security issues, screening issues and these sorts of things and they’re being actively worked through now,” said Beighley. “We’re working actively with the relevant agencies and relevant concerned parties on that. So I wouldn’t want to speculate at this stage in terms of how quickly things move in Washington because at any given time, I think that’s a moving target.”
He mentions the comprehensive immigration reform is one of the top priorities in D.C. and the China Visa Waiver Program fits into that track. While the current success of the Russia Visa Waiver Program is great, Beighley believes the China market is even greater.
“The potential of the China market is vastly greater than the potential of the Russian market just based on the numbers and the number of people that are living within a 4.5-5 hour flight envelope from Guam,” said Beighley. “So the raw numbers just make China much, much larger from Russia.”
Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Regional Director Kate Chang says she was last on Guam 2.5 years ago and still sees that the island is a very big potential market for China.
“Chinese really hunger to travel to places like islands, like Guam,” said Chang. “So I’m pretty sure Guam will be a preferred destination for Chinese in a very short time.”
As a representative for PATA, Chang is committed to working with GVB and industry leaders to strengthen the relationship between Guam and China. She believes the visa waiver program is a good thing.
“That would be great if we had the visa waiver program to be put into use,” said Chang. “In addition to that, if we can push forward to much easier accessibility like direct flight or if not the scheduled one, but charter service, that would be really, really helpful.”
Chang adds highlighting that Guam is the shortest distance between the U.S. and China is a great selling point to improve the awareness level of Chinese travelers.