Omicron hasn't been confirmed on Guam but the latest COVID-19 variant of concern's impacts are now reaching the island, including the cancellation of a group booking for 500 visitors from Korea to Guam and stricter U.S. travel rules by Dec. 6.
Guam Visitors Bureau Vice President Gerry Perez said the omicron variant has put a kind of a "speed bump" in the positive tourism trends that Guam has seen the last couple of months.
"The group incentive booking that we have, 500 visitors, just canceled couple days ago," Perez told members and guests of the Guam Chamber of Commerce.
Perez was one of the resource speakers at the Chamber's more than two-hour 2022 economic forecast seminar on Friday.
Korea imposed a 10-day quarantine for all inbound travelers in response to the omicron variant. This halted an earlier exemption given to fully vaccinated people.
Japan also banned the entry of foreign nationals, including business travelers and foreign students to help stave off the omicron variant's spread.
Both Japan and Korea, Guam's main tourism markets, have confirmed cases of the omicron variant.
Hawaii also confirmed the first omicron case in a resident with no travel history. A handful of states have already confirmed omicron cases.
"While we are concerned with the prolonged return protocols in Japan and Korea that have been reimplemented, we don’t believe this will be long-lasting," Perez later told The Guam Daily Post in an email response to questions.
President Biden announced on Thursday more stringent testing for international travelers, among other things, to help stave off a potential winter surge of COVID-19 even as omicron cases have already reached at least five states.
Biden said inbound international travelers must be tested for the coronavirus within one day of global departure, regardless of nationality or vaccination status.
The policy takes effect Dec. 6. It toughens protocols for vaccinated travelers, who had been able to get tested as long as three days before departure.
On Guam, current travel restrictions have remained unchanged as of Friday afternoon.
At the Chamber's economic forecast seminar, the general sentiment is that 2022 would be better than 2021 and 2020, driven mostly by the construction industry and federal and local government spending, along with the return of tourists.
Perez, however, told the Chamber that regional and global tourism organizations don't foresee a return of pre-pandemic tourism arrivals until 2023 or 2024.
Despite the omicron threat, Perez said at least six Korean airlines have firmed up the resumption of their flights, including the return of Asiana Airlines on Dec. 23 or 18 years since it stopped flying the route in 2003.
"The good news is the air service schedule is still holding for the first and second quarter and this is...nine carriers and 307,192 seats in all of our markets," Perez said at the event.
Hours later, GVB's Perez pointed out that Korean and Japanese arrivals for the first two months of fiscal 2022 increased from 208 to 4,500 visitors year on year and U.S. visitors increased 162% to 6,670 visitors.
"These encouraging trends, however, have run into what may be a temporary setback pending further clarification on the severity and international travel restrictions recently imposed," Perez said. "Although highly transmissible, we are encouraged to learn that this variant has not been as deadly, nor as grave as the Delta variant, among afflicted individuals at its geographic source."
He pointed at Guam's 92% full vaccination rate, robust contact tracing and testing, and treatment, as well as businesses' compliance with pandemic health and safety protocols.
"Guam’s vaccination process and local protocols should continue to protect our community during this evolving pandemic," he said.
This story will be updated.