Guam soon will see the resumption of flights from its main tourism market of South Korea, starting with T'way Air on July 31, followed by Korean Air and Air Seoul in early August, according to officials from the Guam Visitors Bureau and the Guam International Airport Authority.
Some 2,400 Taiwanese tourists booked flights to Guam for July and August under the Air V&V, or "vaccination and vacation," program. More than 900 of them have arrived since Eva Air's July 6 charter flight, said Nadine Leon Guerrero, director of global marketing for GVB.
Rolenda Faasuamalie, GIAA marketing administrator, on Saturday said airlines issued schedules to indicate these start dates:
- July 31, T'way Air.
- Aug. 5, Korean Air.
- Aug. 12, Air Seoul.
- September, Air Busan.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's been more than 16 months since Guam saw the last major arrivals of Korean tourists.
The return of flights from Taiwan and Korea kick off what some industry officials describe as a slow but deliberate reopening of Guam tourism.
"As an industry, it’s important we understand we need to manage expectations and we can reopen the economy in a slow and deliberate manner recognizing there are highly contagious variants of the virus emerging and our key source markets like Japan and Korea are continuing their vaccination efforts," Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association President Mary Rhodes told The Guam Daily Post on Saturday.
Guam has kept its COVID-19 cases under control recently, and the full vaccination rate of its adult population is nearing its 80% goal, among the highest on American soil.
When the 80% adult vaccination rate goal is reached, businesses may be able to resume 100% occupancy and more pandemic restrictions may be lifted, in time for the return of Guam's main tourism market of Korea.
Guam tourism officials said it could take some time before the island sees the return of tourists from Japan, as the country continues to grapple with COVID-19 infections.
The latest Eva Air charter flight out of Taipei arrived on Guam on July 22 with 299 passengers, Leon Guerrero said. That's nearly double the number of passengers in the first few flights.
GVB expects eight more Eva Air flights from July 27 to Aug. 26, with a combined seat capacity of more than 1,500, Leon Guerrero said.
Rhodes said GHRA is "grateful for the opportunity to reopen the tourism industry in a slow and steady fashion."
"The initial flights from Taiwan were well received and our partners in the Air V&V program worked diligently to ensure they received excellent services during their stay," she said.
Guam expanded its government quarantine exemptions, including for those not vaccinated but who have a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival.
This was a main factor in the start of arrivals from Taiwan, as citizens there, especially those younger than 50 years old, wanted to get their COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as the second day after arrival.
Some 150 of the more than 900 Taiwanese tourists so far received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson Janssen COVID-19 vaccine, GVB's Leon Guerrero said.
Most opted for the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines.
Rhodes said several businesses have chosen not to reopen until Guam garners increases in air capacity.
"I understand we can expect to see increases in airline schedules starting September, therefore businesses can begin their reopening strategies, but it all depends on the pent-up demand from our key source markets in Asia," she said.
'Good sign of things to come'
While ongoing arrivals from Taiwan and those expected from Korea will not be what Guam was accustomed to, especially after receiving more than 1 million tourists a year prior to the pandemic, members of the tourism industry are hopeful.
"The impact of seeing more visitors safely come to Guam during this pandemic is a good sign of things to come," Leon Guerrero said. "There is great interest in Guam as a safe destination that offers the option for vaccine tourism. We will keep building on that momentum as it benefits everyone in our community, especially tourism-based businesses."
Some Tumon businesses that have stayed open or reopened are glad to start seeing Taiwanese tourists once again.
"We haven't seen a lot of them, but only a few. But we're happy to see tourists are back and we surely are looking forward to seeing much more," said Jolleen Merur, restaurant manager on duty at TGI Fridays.
During the pandemic, when there were no tourist arrivals, TGI Fridays relied on residents and military service members to keep the restaurant open, Merur said.
While the pandemic restricted travel mostly for tourism purposes, arrivals to Guam didn't really stop as United Airlines and Philippine Airlines, among others, continued flights.
Even before the formal launch of Air V&V, American expats from Thailand, Japan, the Philippines and other Asian countries started coming to Guam to get their COVID-19 vaccinations and vacation at the same time.
GVB also has started working on incentives to encourage tourists to return to Guam, including paying for tourists' PCR testing before they return to their home countries. Each PCR test costs $150 to $200.
A $500 shopping voucher that tourists can redeem only at businesses on Guam also remains an option for GVB.