Guam-bound tourists' trip cancellations are nearing 20,000, according to combined figures from the Guam Visitors Bureau and Japan Guam Travel Association, as the number of novel coronavirus cases continues to climb in Guam's main tourist markets.
There are also new concerns that the incubation period for the novel coronavirus could be as long as 28 days, said Tom Ada, executive manager of the A.B. Won Pat Guam International Airport Authority.
Ada said he received the information from local public health officials.
Department of Public Health and Social Services Director Linda Unpingco DeNorcey confirmed Wednesday night the information from Ada did come from her department. The director said the incubation period may be longer than initially reported. For now, the official incubation period is still two to 14 days, but subject to change, DeNorcey said.
The director said she's awaiting word from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and will inform the public when the official word is released.
Breaking down cancellations
Guam Visitors Bureau data show the majority of the cancellations continue to be from South Korea with 14,414; Taiwan, 63; Hong Kong, six; and the U.S. mainland, 175. GVB records show 481 cancellations from Japan.
The Japan Guam Travel Association has counted nearly 4,000 cancellations.
Last week, the total tally was nearly 15,000.
Guam's two main sources of tourists have been hit hard. South Korea's number of new coronavirus cases has jumped to more than 1,200 Wednesday after 284 new cases, including a U.S. soldier, were reported, according to Reuters. More than 80,000 cases have been confirmed, mostly in China. South Korea has the highest cases outside of China.
In Japan, Hokkaido announced its first COVID-19 death on Wednesday, as the prefecture's education board urged local authorities to temporarily close all public elementary and junior high schools in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus, The Japan Times reported.
Japan students' visit canceled
At Guam's Agana Heights Elementary School on Wednesday, the second day of the visit by a group of students from Mimasaka University in Hokkaido, Japan, was canceled. Some of the school's parents were not informed the group would visit classrooms at the elementary school beginning on Tuesday.
The same day the Japan students' group tour was canceled, the Guam Department of Education announced a policy that student group tours to and from countries that have confirmed COVID-19 infections will not be sanctioned by GDOE.
Guam has not had a case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. And while local officials are discussing ways to keep the island free of the novel virus, the tourism industry is feeling the impacts.
Satoru Murata, president of the Japan Guam Travel Association, said the Japan cancellations were, as of Feb. 20, about 4,000 and were for travel to Guam between February and April.
After that, Murata said, cancellations are increasing daily. In particular, he said, large cancellations have occurred for group trips and school trips.
"Unless the situation where the spread of the new coronavirus in Japan is expanding cannot be stopped, it is assumed that cancellation will still increase," Murata said. "It is also assumed that not only cancellations but also new bookings will continue to be very slow."
Murata said there currently aren't any measures to overcome the decline in tourist arrivals; however, he hopes the spread of the virus in Japan would ease soon.
Additionally, he said JGTA believes GovGuam needs to implement thorough quarantine and preventive measures to prevent bringing the novel coronavirus to Guam.
Guam can keep safe image
"This means that when the spread of the virus in Japan ends, Guam's safety and comfort will quickly appeal to Japanese consumers as a destination for overseas travel," Murata said. "Which is very important for the early recovery of tourism demand."
Murata said the downturn in tourism caused by the novel coronavirus would have a devastating impact on Guam's economy.
Last week, the Guam Visitors Bureau reported more than 15,000 tourist cancellations, resulting in a loss of $9.1 million to the island's tourism economy.
"In particular, the spread of infections in Japan and South Korea – which support Guam's tourism industry – has caused a drastic decrease in tourists, not only hotels, restaurants and tourists, but also the related distribution and service industries will shake up their operations and reduce tax revenues," Murata said.
Delegate urges caution
Guam Del. Michael San Nicolas said he's in communication with military officials to "emphasize that protocols need to be firmly in place for how infections are to be handled and how suspicious infections are to be managed."
He said he has asked that military training be reconsidered particularly in areas experiencing high rates of COVID-19 infections.