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Last updateFri, 22 Sep 2017 12am

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    Thursday, September 21, 2017-4:35:32A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

Guam facing challenge to sustain tourism growth amid North Korea jitters

HAGÅTÑA — Air Seoul launched its direct Incheon-Guam service on Wednesday, bringing nearly 200 passengers aboard A321-200 on its maiden flight to the island.

While the low-cost carrier’s six-times-a-week service has added 3,000 additional seats to Guam’s current 73,000-seat capacity from South Korea, the Guam Visitors Bureau is facing a challenge to sustain tourism growth amid the persistent missile threats from North Korea.

GVB’s report released on Tuesday showed 143,677 visitors came to Guam in August, which was marred by tension caused by Kim Jon-un’s threat to fire ballistic missiles around the waters of Guam.

The August 2017 number showed a 0.7 percent decrease compared to 144,758 arrivals during the same month last year — indicating that President Donald Trump may have misspoken when he predicted that the global attention to Guam at the height of the tension would increase Guam tourism “tenfold.”

GVB’s Resear GVB said the cancellations resulted in an estimated $9.5 million loss for Guam. Department has confirmed there have been 7,426 cancellations from travelers who had booked for package tours with school excursions and Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions groups.

A majority of the cancellations came from Japan school groups that had planned to travel to Guam in the fall. China Air also cancelled its charter flight to Guam from Taiwan in October because its customers are hesitant to travel to Guam. GVB said the cancellations resulted in an estimated $9.5 million loss for Guam.

Nevertheless, Air Seoul CEO Ryu Kwang-hee said Guam remains a popular destination for Koreans, hence the airline’s decision to launch a new route between Incheon to Guam.

“Before the North Korea tension, our visitor arrivals for this August were expected to be the top month in Guam’s history,” Gov. Eddie Calvo said. “Instead, there was a slight decline. The last thing we need is for this trend to continue. We must make great strides to ensure the future of our island’s top economic contributor remains robust and diverse.”

The risk of tourism decline figures in the ongoing battle between the administration and the Legislature over the 2018 budget.

Administration officials said GVB may face an uphill battle in countering the impact of Pyongyang’s constant threats on the island’s main industry.

“Now is the time to arm the Guam Visitors Bureau with the resources they need. Tourism is the lifeblood of our economy,” said Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio. “For more visitors to continue coming to our island paradise, it’s important to reassure them that Guam remains a family-friendly and safe destination.”

Last week, GVB President & CEO Nathan Denight slammed the Legislature for “underfunding” the bureau.

“For fiscal year 2018, lawmakers reduced GVB’s request by $3.9 million, despite the fact that GVB warned them that Guam is facing major challenges, and without these necessary funds, the bureau will not have the resources needed to increase visitor arrivals next year,” Denight said. “You can’t keep underfunding tourism year after year and expect it to increase.”

He said GVB needed adequate funds for effective sales and marketing programs and activities that generate visitor arrivals, especially from core source markets including Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Philippines and China.

According to GVB’s report, visitor arrivals from Japan declined 13.9 percent for the month of August, but Guam’s top market outpaced Korea arrivals with 68,351 Japanese visitors traveling to the island due to the Obon holiday. However, with major airlines like Delta and Korean Air reducing service out of Japan, a lack of seating capacity to Guam remains a top concern.

“Almost 1.4 million seats between Japan and Guam were available in 2012, but that number has decreased to less than 900 thousand in 2017,” GVB said.

Tourism, the main economic fuel for Guam, saw its growth in recent years after recovering from a slump caused by Supertyphoon Pongsona in 2002 and the SARS scare in the early 2002.

In 2016, Guam welcomed 1.53 million tourists, hitting its record years since 1991.