"We have never seen anything like this."

These, in part, were the words of Ben Ferguson, general manager of the Pacific Islands Club Guam, which once had a thriving workforce of more than 700.

Because of the pandemic, and the resulting stagnancy of the tourism industry, the hotel will lay off 119 of its workers, PIC announced Tuesday. Around 500 of its labor force have been on furlough since March, and were recalled to work only for a few weeks when the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt's sailors needed a temporary place to stay.

"The 2008 U.S. financial crisis and Japan's natural disaster in 2011 hit us hard and resort occupancy went as low as 40%, but we have never seen anything like this," said Ferguson, who has been with the organization for more than 30 years.

"We are hopeful that tourism to Guam will resume before the end of the year, but we are also mindful of the reality that arrivals to Guam from our key source markets will take an extended period of time to recover to prepandemic levels."

For as long as the tourists are staying home and our residents are under stay-at-home orders, this scenario at PIC will repeat at other businesses across the island. 

Layoffs and furloughs have been occurring at many hotels on the island, across the restaurant industry, and other business that don't deal strictly in everyday necessities.

Guam used to get 1.5 million tourists a year. Now, our tourism hubs have turned into ghost towns.

But it doesn't take an industry insider like Ferguson to say that times have been tough. It has been tough and will be more challenging financially in the months, if not for more than a year ahead, for consumers and the business owners who have been struggling to keep people on their payroll.

On the same day that PIC had to announce that its 700-strong workforce can no longer be sustained, the government of Guam's nearly billion-dollar budget for fiscal year 2021 became law.

The Legislature's $950 million version prevailed over the governor's which was somewhat higher.

GovGuam somehow still is implementing a nearly billion-dollar budget in an economy weighed down by near-zero tourist arrivals, business closures and job losses.

GovGuam has decided to let itself believe that the cash flow will continue. And that federal funds will help it to stay afloat so its budget projects that it's business as usual.

Government furloughs or layoffs are not part of the GovGuam budget. There's not even a plan to issue furlough notices in case these become necessary.

How is it possible that GovGuam doesn't think it needs to shed jobs even when payroll is its biggest expense? How is it that GovGuam projects nearly the same level of tax collection when many more of our taxpayers - individuals or businesses alike – are struggling financially as jobs are lost and businesses are in a struggle for survival if they haven't given up already?

It's not the first time we've brought this up. But the devastating news of job losses at PIC – and the finalization of a nearly billion-dollar spending the same day – offer a stark contrast.

It tells us which side has eyes wide open and which side has put its blinders on.


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