Right off the bat, we can think of a number of incidents that would have merited apologies from the Guam Visitors Bureau leadership or our elected Guam officials.

When tourists get mugged and lose their money, phone, vacation photos and passports to thugs while vacationing on Guam, it might give the guests a little bit of consolation when GVB finds a way to express apologies for their bad experience.

When tourists experience distress while sightseeing in public parks because public restrooms are padlocked, that is an embarrassment that could merit an apology from GVB. And when tourists get ripped off with false promises of a paradise experience on Guam that turns out to be anything but because of moldy or roach-infested accommodations, or there's trash everywhere as they tour, GVB could probably offer a gesture of apology for that, too.

There was, however, a recent incident that didn't require a very public apology from someone in the leadership at GVB.

On Monday, GVB Vice President Bobby Alvarez had to publicly apologize. He also publicly stated he had made a "bad judgment."

His boss, GVB President Pilar Laguaña also announced Alvarez had been "counseled."

The profusely expressed apology stemmed from a personal post that Alvarez made on social media about United Airlines.

Alvarez made a comment that certain of his family members' experiences with the airline have been a disappointment. Part of his post, which has since been deleted, stated: "I think (United Airlines) needs some competition and a lesson in customer appreciation and customer service! UA has been nothing short of a complete disappointment since its inception on Guam."

He was stating an opinion that – based on initial reactions to The Guam Daily Post's reporting – some Guam travelers happen to agree with.

And while he does get his paycheck from GVB, which values United for providing key air links to Guam from a number of tourism markets, urging Alvarez to offer a public apology might not have been the greatest idea. We have not seen GVB apologize for something this quickly and so publicly in a long time.

A chilling effect on free speech

GVB's reaction to what Alvarez posted on his personal Facebook page could discourage government of Guam personnel from freely voicing their personal thoughts.

While there are limitations in the workplace on what an employee can say to or about his or her employer, this might not be one of those cases.

How GVB reacted to Alvarez's personal post may be an effort to defend United and to avoid harming a major partner in the tourism industry, but it's also not good for GVB to be overly sensitive to the point of stifling someone's constitutionally protected right to speak freely.

Tom Spiggle, an attorney who writes on workplace rights, wrote in Forbes magazine in September 2018, that a government employee publicly commenting on "an issue of public concern" may very well be protected under his right to free speech.

"If what's being said is subject to a legitimate news topic and is being said as a regular citizen – rather than as an employee – then the speech is more likely to be protected from government-employer interference," Spiggle wrote.

So while Alvarez's comment may be viewed by higher leadership in GVB as bad for the tourism business, the government agency also must know to respect its employees' right to speak freely on a public issue from their personal viewpoint.

We think this event offers a chance for United to turn the story into something positive.

Nothing is stopping any airline from improving its customers' experience – and winning the support of more Guam fliers along the way.

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