Guam's tourism reopening plan has to be in tune with the times

DEPARTURE: An exit sign and a Wyland mural greets departing passengers in front of the United Airlines check-in counter at the A.B. Won Pat International Airport as seen on Oct. 11. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

There are windows of opportunity for Guam's tourism industry to prepare to open Guam to niche tourism.

Targeting niche tourists – as opposed to mass tourists on a budget that could become a health care nightmare in this pandemic – could save some of the island's tourism jobs and businesses from completely going away if done right and on time.

Guam can aim for niche tourists who are willing to pay a premium price for a quality destination that doesn't have hordes of visitors.

The island has some accommodations and experiences that can cater to these types of high-value tourists but it takes Guam to enter into partnerships with the markets where travelers are allowed to return without the requisite 14-day quarantine in their home countries.

There are examples in other markets that Guam can use as an inspiration to tailor its own niche tourism destination. Some markets also use the term "bubble" to emphasize the need to enforce safety measures while allowing tourists to visit and return to their home countries safely.

Last week, The Japan News-Yomiuri reported that the Japanese government is planning to soon allow business travelers to enter Japan for three days or less without staying in quarantine for 14 days after arrival, provided they meet certain conditions. The conditions these travelers must meet are likely to include undergoing a coronavirus test; not using public transit in Japan; avoiding places where unspecified large numbers of people come and go; traveling only between certain locations, such as work-related venues; and submitting a document detailing where they will stay and what they plan to do in Japan, The Japan News-Yomiuri reported.

Japan's entry restrictions could be eased as soon as next month, The Japan News-Yomiuri reported. The reporting further stated the loosened requirements will apply to travelers from nations and regions with strong economic ties to Japan, including China, South Korea and Taiwan. The United States isn't on the list of countries for this potential easing of travel.

We hope the GVB leadership will be able to use its ties in Japan to successfully carve out a Guam-only destination for Japanese travelers who will be exempt from quarantine when they go back to Japan. Guam can reciprocate the quarantine exemption provided they follow certain conditions such as the ones listed in the Japan plan.

Guam has the tourism infrastructure for this type of low-impact tourism. Tourists can rent cars and not have to use public transportation, be accommodated in hotels that are closed off to the general public, hotel staff will have to be provided with the most stringent protective gear, and the tourists can go to pre-certified optional tours on Guam that meet strict safety precautions.

There's a market of travelers willing to pay a premium price for a safe travel and tourism experience in this COVID-19 environment.

In other markets, there have been sold-out, "flights to nowhere" packages that catered to people itching to travel but are constricted by 14-day quarantine rules at their destination and at home.

Hawaii has recently launched its trusted traveler program, allowing people to skip the 14-day quarantine if they test out of the requirement, and the aloha state has reported seeing travelers come back at an initial volume of more than 10,000 travelers in the first day.

Singapore and Germany have agreed to start a reciprocal "green lane" – allowing travel for business or official reasons, the latest step by governments to pry open borders largely sealed by the coronavirus, The Washington Post reported.

There are ways to slowly open Guam's tourism safely and in a phased-in process.

Niche tourism could be the answer. 

The era of mass tourism, in which tourists crowded at Kmart to buy instant or canned meals, went in groups for the cheapest beds they could find, hailed unlicensed ride-share service and opted for cheap ways to take advantage of Guam's beauty without the full economic benefit for our island, is no longer something to hang on to if it were to return.

Other larger travel markets have been trying some paths to reopen and serve the pent-up travel demand worldwide and Guam can be a part of this action.

Without a doubt, it's time to try something different.

As Gerry Perez, Guam Visitors Bureau deputy general manager has said, in urging the government of Guam conduct rapid COVID-19 mass testing, in hopes of stemming the contagion, "doing the same thing for many months over and over and over and expecting a different result is obviously not acceptable." 

It's the same concept for figuring out how to reopen the island's visitor industry. The tricks of the trade from the past will not work this time.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Guam was well on its way to another record-breaking tourist arrivals. The 2019 total was an astounding 1.6 million arrivals. 

In the first two months of this calendar year, Guam was gaining momentum for another record-high visitor arrivals until COVID-19 happened.

When COVID-19 hit our shores, arrivals dropped and now it's been at a standstill.

It's been eight months since Guam's tourism industry has been in limbo.

How quickly Guam can bounce back may rely on people in leadership positions in our government who are bold enough to go big with new and sound ideas.

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