GVB proposes to pay for tourists' COVID-19 tests

BUENAS: Matapang Beach along Tumon Bay could be getting a facelift as the Guam Visitors Bureau has requested additional money specifically to make improvements in that area. Norman M. Taruc/The Guam Daily Post

Guam Visitors Bureau board members on Thursday voted to increase the agency's fiscal year 2022 budget request to nearly $27.7 million and discussed the likelihood of GVB paying for the COVID-19 PCR testing of tourists prior to their return to their place of origin.

The board's revised fiscal 2022 budget request to the Legislature, from $20 million in January to now nearly $27.7 million, is focused on helping with the tourism revitalization.

During the meeting, GVB Vice President Gerry Perez announced an April 15 meeting with Taiwan Tourism Bureau Deputy Director HJ Lin on the possibility of having a "travel bubble" between Guam and Taiwan, much like what Palau and Taiwan started on April 1.

Guam is looking to reopen tourism by May 1 after more than a year of a standstill brought by the COVID-19 pandemic's travel restrictions.

As one of the incentives for tourists to start visiting Guam, GVB wants to shoulder the cost of PCR testing, about $100 to $120 each, for tourists departing Guam.

GVB may have to spend $10 million to $12 million, for example, if it pays for the PCR testing of up to 100,000 initial tourists.

Agency officials expect $20 million from the $661 million in additional pandemic relief funds for the government of Guam, which some members said could be used for the testing.

At the board meeting, members approved a "motion to negotiate or issue a request for proposals to provide COVID testing required of travelers returning to their home countries."

GVB board Chairman Milton Morinaga, GVB President Carl Gutierrez and other agency officials shared the governor's goal of reopening tourism, which hinges on fully vaccinating half or 62,500 of Guam's adult population by May 1.

About 28,000 more still need to be vaccinated to reach the goal, and some GVB officials shared their concern that the reopening could be delayed if the vaccination goal is not met.

Gearing up

Morinaga and other GVB officials welcomed United Airlines' announcement of resuming more flights to support Guam's plan to reopen tourism by May.

More Guam businesses and agencies have met requirements to be world-certified as a COVID-19 safe area, Perez said.

The Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association will hold a second COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Tumon next week, following a successful first round with 600 doses administered mostly to hotel and tourism workers, Perez said.

The GVB board also voted to approve up to $30,000 from pandemic recovery money to be used for sponsorship funding to support the Guam National Tennis Federation's hosting of pro and junior tennis tournaments from May to June.

Perez said an investment of $30,000 will go a long way because the overall economic benefit of having some 600 people visit Guam for the tournaments is huge, with hotel room nights worth $700,000 and $334,250 in tourist attraction fund, plus incalculable advertising for Guam.

Islandwide beautification efforts and sprucing up of tourist attraction sites are also ongoing, GVB officials said, along with enforcement of laws on abandoned and derelict buildings.

Perez said these are coupled with beefing up tourism messaging and communications strategy. 

Governor's letter

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero is working on a letter to be used as an official communication to government officials of Japan, Korea and Taiwan, outlining Guam's successes in containing COVID-19 and progress in reopening tourism, Perez said.

The governor's letter, still in draft form, will request these governments' assistance and support for travel to Guam, Perez also said.

He said Guam will seek less restrictive protocols for tourists returning from Guam.

Perez also said the grand launch of the use of the electronic declaration form for arriving passengers will be held prior to May 1.

Since the March 25 soft launch, Guam has been working to fix "minor bugs," Perez said.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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