GVB eyes $3M budget for vaccine tourism

VISITING FOR THE VACCINE: Daniel Marshall closes his eyes as he is given the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the University of Guam Calvo Field House on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Mangilao. The U.S. citizen came to Guam from his home in the Philippines to get vaccinated, saying he couldn't be sure when the vaccine would be available back home. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

Guam Visitors Bureau officials on Thursday debated, at length, a proposed $3 million budget to launch its vaccination program for American expatriates and also for foreign guests.

No decision was made because of a lack of quorum during voting toward the end of the meeting, which lasted more than two hours.

Some GVB board members said the bureau needs to wait for updated travel guidance before committing $3 million to its so-called Air V&V, or vaccination and vacation, program.

But others said the bureau's target market for Air V&V are those who want to get vaccinated here and are willing to go through the required quarantine.

The governor issued new guidance regarding quarantine that afternoon, after GVB board Chairman Milton Morinaga called to recess the meeting.

GVB President Carl Gutierrez, at the board meeting, said interest in Guam's vaccine tourism among American expatriates is gaining traction, and its possible expansion to non-American passport holders will generate even more interest.

But Gutierrez and GVB Vice President Gerry Perez, as well as some board members, said the board needs to "give the management team the tools" or the funding to execute the plan it's been working on for weeks.

Perez said management has identified $3 million to formally develop Air V&V. The funding will be diverted from the Matapang Beach Park and Governor Joseph Flores Memorial Park upgrades, lighting improvement and maintenance program, he said.

Portions of the $3 million, according to GVB officials, will be used to market Guam as a vaccination and vacation destination, and to pay for vaccines for non-American visitors, especially those from Guam's main source markets of Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

Vaccines for all Americans, whether living in or visiting Guam, are given free of charge.

They are provided by the federal government to Guam, and Operation Warp Speed agreed to increase the island's dosage allocation if demand among American expatriates increase, officials said. Guam officials see it as a humanitarian effort, with the hope of attracting visitors from nearby countries where vaccines are harder to come by.

Guam currently has ample supply of the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, and 60% of its adult population is now fully vaccinated.

For Guam's main tourism markets that still require negative PCR testing upon their return, whether vaccinated or not, GVB officials said the bureau may need to also provide free return PCR testing as an added incentive.

The governor supports the Air V&V concept, Gutierrez said, but has yet to approve GVB's requested 1,500 vaccine doses to initiate the program.

That's most likely going to go toward vaccinating non-Americans, since American expatriates have already started coming to Guam to get vaccinated and vacation at the same time. They also get to work remotely while on island.

Perez said GVB is proposing a vaccination program with different price levels: budget, medium and high-end. They include ground handling arrangements, from arrival to departure, he said.

This will jump-start Guam's tourism, and bring business to hotels and restaurants beyond local staycations, Perez said, adding that the program will be driven by travel agents and hotels, and the food-and-beverage and other related industries.

"It's good optics for economic recovery and U.S. regional geopolitical image," Perez added.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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