Members of a task force focused on Guam's pandemic recovery on Wednesday weighed a new $2.5 million tourism incentive proposal that offers a $500 debit card each to the first 5,000 tourists to visit the island.
Recovery Task Force Chairman Sam Shinohara and other members also welcomed the governor's lifting of additional travel restrictions that they said gives Guam "the ability to propel the tourism industry forward."
"This is certainly a win for us," Shinohara, who's also a managing director of United Airlines said, adding that this is the type of clarity that airlines and travel industry partners needed to help market Guam.
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero announced that effective 12:01 a.m. on July 4, each traveler with a negative PCR test result within 72 hours of arrival could also skip quarantine.
Guam Visitors Bureau Vice President Gerry Perez presented a revised proposal to entice tourists to travel to Guam, this time by offering the first 5,000 passengers $500 each in a debit card to be used at participating businesses including bus operators, taxis operators, car rentals, local tour agencies, restaurants and retail stores.
Perez said GVB will also request funding from the American Recovery Program and if the governor approves it, then the program will be expanded to include up to 10,000 passengers.
GVB revised its proposed incentives to tourists and businesses after the Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association and the Guam Economic Development Authority opted out of the program, and instead are developing a separate incentives program for residents and businesses.
"We had to go back and retool this thing based on discussions we had," Perez said. "And now it's more competitive and just straightforward."
A third party may have to be tapped to implement the debit card program, he said.
On June 24, the GVB board approved a $1.6 million budget for the bureau's incentives program but gave the management flexibility to further develop the program.
Perez also presented a proposal to subsidize the break-even gap between actual and flight operating costs for airlines, and to pay charter flight organizers $100 per passenger seat sold.
Perez and GVB President and CEO Carl Gutierrez said more Philippines and Taiwan carriers are interested in flying to Guam to bring individuals who want to get vaccinated on Guam while also vacationing.
Besides the charter flights from Taiwan on July 6, 10, 14 and 18, there are also charter flights in the works from the Philippines, Gutierrez and Perez said.
Philippine Airlines is planning to include passengers from Bangkok, Thailand, when it flies charter flights from the Philippines, Gutierrez said.
With more relaxed travel rules, task force officials said the concept of a "travel bubble" isn't really needed to be pushed since Guam is pretty much open for tourism in general.
Gutierrez also said those coming to the island on travel packages including those under the Air V&V Guam USA vaccine tourism program could see a significant cut in costs because the additional PCR tests and ground transportation in the package will no longer be needed.
Tourists also don't have to sign up for the health monitoring Sara Alert, which is another cost they don't have to pay anymore.
He said tourists from Taiwan who initially backed out of the July charter flights signed back in once they learned of the new travel requirements.
Tourism representatives and Department of Public Health and Social Services medical operations chief Chima Mbakwem said the Air V&V standard operating procedures are rendered moot by the relaxed travel restrictions.
However, there still need to be clear procedures for when travelers test positive for COVID-19, task force members said.
Ready or not?
Shinohara asked task force members about the readiness of tourism-related businesses to handle the return of tourists.
GVB's Gutierrez said some hotels with existing contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense, to his understanding, are not ready yet to take in Air V&V and regular tourists until September or October.
He also hopes that all hotels would soon open up, and that the military would not be averse to staying in the same hotels where Air V&V and regular tourists will be staying.
The announcement about lifting more travel restrictions came after Guam was able to fully vaccinate at least 75% of its adult population, 18 years old and older.
The larger herd immunity goal is to vaccinate at least 80% or 96,031 of adults by the time Guam celebrates its 77th Liberation Day on July 21.
Shinohara said the message that should be coming out is that "Guam is a safe way to visit," and if travelers want to get vaccinated, "we will vaccinate you, too."