I take a drive with my family to Merizo every weekend. And every weekend I am mesmerized by the beauty of our island. I’m sure that whenever it is tourists come back here to restart our economy and get thousands back to work, this drive down south will make it all worth their while.
“Guam Visitors Bureau is actually part of that cleanup that’s happening down south,” GVB marketing director Nadine Leon Guerrero told me in a sit-down interview former Gov. Carl Gutierrez arranged for me. The governor – still the one – is the president and CEO of the visitors bureau. I joked with Troy Torres after the interview that if anyone is going to save us from the destruction this pandemic has caused for so many families, it’s going to be Gutierrez.
And it’s not a joke, either. We have to rely on tourism’s return. It was scary, thinking the industry would not rebound for years. What were we supposed to do? Seriously? How were we to bring in the cash businesses need to rehire, pay healthy wages, and sustain commerce on this island for the middle class, if not for the return of visitors?
“The demand for travel is there,” Ms. Leon Guerrero said. “We just need to make sure that all the protocols for when they return are in line to make sure that they can go back without quarantining.”
And the tourists are coming back sooner, than later thought.
Thank goodness. It was not too long ago, the gap between the end of federal unemployment assistance and the second adolescence of Guam’s tourism industry was measured by gloom and doom. Had anyone else been in charge of having a vision and executing that vision with the excited mission of bringing those tourists back to Guam, we may not have had much of a prayer. But, we’re talking about Carl Gutierrez here; the man with the plan. And where most saw thrift beginnings, Gutierrez aimed to bring back sunshine to this dreary existence we’ve endured for two years now.
“Throughout this time we’ve been, um, promoting in Korea,” GVB’s Korea Marketing Manager Colleen Cabedo said. “We’ve been keeping our relations, very close relations with our travel agents, and our airline partners to always engage with them and the Korean government when we should see, um, a change in any of the protocols. So, we actually got, we got intel ahead of time that the Korean government would announce the change of protocols, um, come this March 21st.”
That change in protocol has reopened myriad possibilities for Guam’s economy. Prior to the pandemic, Korea for several years had been Guam’s number-one market for tourists.
“So on March 21st the Korean government is announcing that um if you’re fully vaccinated in Korea, you can return back to Korea without quarantining as long as you receive a negative PCR test,” Ms. Cabedo explained. “Um, prior to that, it used to be a 10-day quarantine, and then it was reduced down to seven days. But now we’re so happy the Korean government is looking towards living with COVID. And, so … they’ve really lifted the restrictions for returning visitors.”
Gutierrez & co. are wasting no time with this opportunity, as Guam is only one option for travel-hungry Koreans.
“They gave an opportunity for us and our marketing team to go there and press the flesh,” Gov. Gutierrez announced excitedly about GVB’s opportunity to market Guam again to Korean tourists. The former governor said the visitor market is hopeful Asiana Airlines and Korean Airlines, “the two big carriers,” will be announcing regular flights. “We’ll be carrying the message for Guam.”
Are we ready?
“The hotels are ready,” Ms. Leon Guerrero said with beaming confidence. “The airlines are looking to restart their services. Are there some companies that are closed? Yes. But that [reopening] will come naturally, as our tourism numbers increase.”
“As Nadine said, businesses are shuttered down temporarily, but when they start seeing the tourists walking up and down, they’ll automatically— you get ready, because they’ll be here,” Gov. Gutierrez said with that glow of optimism unmistakably his brand.
“In the mean time, we’re doing quite a spruce up of our center stage right here in Tumon,” he explained. “Of course the mayors are doing an excellent job in making sure the whole genesis of the tourism industry back in the 70s was to promote Guam and its culture and its people. And that was really well done by the mayors themselves. Now they are fully engaged with GVB. They are sprucing up their villages. They’re waiting to be part of the whole process that tourism actually works for them as well.”
“We’re taking a lot of the monies that have been given to us by Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero, and Lt. Gov. Josh, and the [American] Rescue Plan money, that we’re putting it in to the destination,” Gutierrez said. “Let’s get our place ready for the tourists to see the cultural revival of Guam.
Destination Guam is safe and will be fun again
“Aside from the marketing efforts in Korea and improving Destination Guam, I think one of the biggest factors for Korea and for all these incoming travelers is that Guam is a safe destination,” GVB marketing coordinator Margaret Sablan said. “So, thank you to Gov. Lou and her team for getting the island vaccinated. Our vaccination numbers are very high, and that is a resounding assurance to the Korean market that Guam is safe for their families, for their young children. And with the current free PCR test that we’re offering, it’s an even greater incentive for our visitors to travel to Guam.”
“We’re ready,” Gov. Gutierrez assured. “Korea’s first, coming en masse. Hopefully Japan next, and Taiwan is also being sort of in a subtle way being pressured by what Korea is doing. And hopefully they, too, will realize that you can get with COVID and relax their restrictions and let their people out. That’s the key. Korea launched the first salvo, and now all the markets are gonna say, ‘Hey, we’re gonna do it, too.’”
“Hopefully we can bring back more events,” Ms. Cabedo said. “Yeah, we’re looking at that,” Gov. Gutierrez continued, looking at his team. GVB under the previous administration sponsored concerts and events, such as the July 4 block party (snickers at Ray Tenorio and the Glock Party he turned the 2018 event into), that succeeded to bringing local hospitality to tourists. These events, and others like the annual Japan festival, stopped, when the pandemic hit.
“We’re trying to figure out what to bring,” Gutierrez said.