With fewer guests, Guam tour operators struggle

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HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — As tourist arrivals dwindle, some whose livelihoods depend on tourists paying for optional tours say they have felt the impact of the flight cancellations.

Jarrod Rebanal, operations manager for Joe’s Jet Ski, said business has seen tourist customers decrease by nearly half.

The decrease in patronage has been particularly noticeable with the Korean visitor market.

On busier days, such as Thursday, Jarrod Rebanal, operations manager for Joe’s Jet Ski, said the business could expect about 40 customers a day. However, on Thursday, he said, the business received 16 tourists — 14 Japanese and only two Koreans.

Usually, he said, the ratio of Japanese tourists to Korean tourists would be about even.

“There’s a noticeable difference now,” Rebanal said. He added that future bookings are lower than usual.

Rebanal said business remains stable because of local and military customers.

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus that causes the pneumonia-like disease called Covid-19 has dampened travel and particularly hit the leisure market. Guam has had more than 15,000 tourist cancellations in a matter of weeks. The estimated loss in revenue for the industry has been more than $9 million, according to the Guam Visitors Bureau.

180 on payroll

Akihiro Tani, general manager of Fish Eye Marine Park, said the tourism slowdown could go on for months.

According to Akihiro Tani, general manager of Fish Eye Marine Park, the business receives about 150,000 to 180,000 customers a year.

However, Tani said, the marine park already has seen a 40% decrease in new bookings. The marine park is expecting a 20% to 30% decrease in revenue, at least until August.

With the volume of tourist cancellations, Tani said the company is preparing and discussing actions it could take to remain financially sound.

“I have 180 staff working with us, so I have to make sure our future is OK,” Tani said.

During the SARS outbreak more than a decade ago, Tani said, Guam saw a 20% decrease in tourist arrivals and the downturn lasted for about eight months.

During that time, Tani said, Fish Eye’s sales declined by more than 20% that year, and for a small company — which also operates a restaurant — that impact is substantial.

“The coronavirus seems more severe than SARS,” Tani said. He added that SARS was contained in China, while the novel coronavirus already has spread throughout Guam’s major tourism source markets — Japan and Korea.

Of the more than 1.6 million tourists who visited Guam in 2019, 753,357 came from South Korea and 684,802 traveled from Japan.

Optimistic

Steven Kasperbauer, president of the Alupang Beach Club, is optimistic that Guam will recover from the current tourism slump.  Photos by David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

Despite the cancellations, Steven Kasperbauer, president of the Alupang Beach Club, said he remains optimistic, taking into account the prior experiences Guam has had with similar health scares such as the SARS virus and bird flu, which both dampened international tourists’ appetite for travel.

Like those similar health scares, Kasperbauer said, Guam could see greater numbers and could eventually even out as the island begins to recover from the situation.

For the most part, Kasperbauer said, tourism is optional. Even though Guam is a popular destination for tourists who want to visit, he added, tourists will hold off their trips for the next few months.

He said Guam is fortunate to have the resources of various health institutions and the U.S. government to help prevent the spread of the virus from reaching the territory.

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