The most common complaint from South Korean tourists who recently visited the island: “Guam was not the same as before,” said Jin-Ju Lee, a regional planning leader for Korean travel company HanaTour.
“There were no shuttles running, restaurants to go to or no place to shop,” Lee said during a tourism recovery forum Tuesday morning at the Hyatt Regency Guam.
The “Get Guam Going” forum is the first large event organized by the new Guam Travel & Tourism Association, whose purpose is to provide information and advocacy for Guam small businesses.
The event, which provided information about the recovery of tourism from Korea and Japan, was streamed virtually, but dozens attended in person in the hotel’s ballroom.
Guam’s tourism industry, which has been nearly non-existent during the pandemic because of travel restrictions, has started to see tourists arrive in larger numbers, mostly from Korea, which eased quarantine restrictions for those returning to the country. About 5,400 visitors arrived from Korea last month, compared to fewer than 100 in May 2021.
Guam tourism, “is evolving quite rapidly and positively,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Tenorio, who gave opening remarks at the forum.
Tenorio said Guam will be faced with the challenge of “trying to quickly unravel and open things that had previously been closed, in an effort to meet the growing and expanded demand.”
“The worst is clearly behind us,” Tenorio said, adding Guam needs to take bold steps, guided by science and data. “We don’t want to find ourselves in a situation where we have a bunch of folks on this island that have expectations to dine and enjoy attractions, but then they’re not open or available.”
“There are good signs in the Japan market,” said Sam Shinohara, managing director for United Airlines. “Our opportunity to start taking this market is right now. Japanese citizens can easily come and go as they please if they’re fully vaccinated and that’s the traffic we want and we should be chasing right now. ”
Shinohara said United is monitoring the travel demand in Japan and is “working smartly to add capacity back into the market,” including eventually resuming direct flights from other areas of Japan.
“While we have yet to see a full resumption of our Japan traffic, we’re starting to see an uptick in the booking and with those signs, we recently announced the relaunch of our Osaka service,” Shinohara said.
There will be flights from Osaka three times a week, he said, and service from Narita will increase to 14 times a week in July.
Shinohara participated in the forum virtually from Sydney, Australia, where he is visiting United operations. He said a shortage of workers in Australia has resulted in long lines for security screening at the Sydney airport and closed concessions and restaurants at the airport and in the city.
“As Guam welcomes people back, we can’t suffer the same fate. We have a lot of lessons learned from so many different places, ”Shinohara said. “We’ve gotta work together to ensure that Guam is tourism-ready. We need our bus lines back online. … And we need our retail and our restaurants back in full operation. ”
GTTA treasurer Akihiro Tani, who is general manager of Fisheye Marine Park, said his business has been challenged by staffing shortages and the inability to fill vacant positions. Few people apply for job openings, he said, and the few residents who do apply sometimes don’t show up for job interviews. The business has 64 vacant positions, he said.
Tani said Guam’s competing tourist destinations of Hawaii and Okinawa are in a better position to recover, with Hawaii already having recovered about 80% of its pre-COVID visitor arrivals. Unlike Guam, those destinations rely mostly on domestic travelers.
Tani also noted that, because of the weaker yen, Okinawa can now be a cheaper vacation than Guam.
Lee, of HanaTour, said some of Guam’s strengths are its short flight time from Korea, the availability of hotels in various price ranges and “an incomparable emerald sea.”
Some of the island’s drawbacks explained were that Guam is a “monotonous tour spot,” has inconvenient public transportation and there are no night tours, she reported.
Tourism from Korea is threatened by high fuel surcharges and the reopening of Southeast Asia, she reported.
She offered the following advice for Guam: Simplify immigration procedures; activated public transportation; provide support for the fuel surcharge; operate various optional tours; and have new things for returning visitors.