Guam senators weigh in on how to revive tourism

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HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — Guam is anticipated to reach Pandemic Condition of Readiness 3 by July and, with that, the island also hopes to open up again to tourism. As the island's main industry, the revival of tourism presents a serious issue for Guam.

The Guam Visitors Bureau is working to court potential tourists from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other markets, but acknowledges that Guam has no control over other countries' decisions to again allow their citizens to travel abroad or lift their 14-day quarantine requirements, or when airlines will resume their flights.

Recognizing challenges to reviving the island's main industry, The Guam Daily Post queried lawmakers on how they might help tourism bounce back.

Eight senators responded with a diverse assortment of ideas.

Clynt Ridgell

First, we need to prove to our source markets that Guam is safe by establishing a system that keeps Covid-19 numbers low. I'm working on legislation to improve contact tracing, as rigorous contact tracing is something that has worked in our source markets to control Covid-19 and is something that they expect.

Second, we need to diversify our tourism market and attract a new type of tourist. This can be accomplished through cannabis tourism. The Cannabis Control Board is close to completing their rules and regulations and I'm actively working with them to figure out how to complete the final steps, which include the need for public hearings. We'll get this done soon and we'll attract a new type of tourist to Guam.

We can also engage in mixed martial arts tourism. MMA is popular in our source markets and, in fact, many of our local MMA fighters compete regularly in championship-level matches in places like Japan and Korea. I have spoken to local MMA promoters who believe we can bring in tourists to Guam to watch championship-level matches here.

The third and perhaps most important step we need to take to rebuild our economy is to create a third pillar of our economy. I believe that this third pillar is agriculture. Throughout the pandemic I have been meeting with local farmers to figure out how to make this a reality. I am working on some legislation and other initiatives that I believe will help build a sustainable and thriving local agriculture industry.

Telo Taitague

(On June 16), I visited GVB hoping to meet CEO (Carl) Gutierrez on ways the legislature could assist with efforts to reopen our tourism industry. Recently, I made an amendment to a bill that would assist small businesses, by applying additional tax exemptions retroactively to January 2020. I will continue supporting proposals that reduce the price of goods and services – and the cost of doing business on Guam – by rolling back the BPT and certain government fees. Although travel policies are beyond our control, Guam must do its part to stand out among other competitive markets by helping businesses that support tourism.

Tina Muna Barnes

I know we are all eager to reopen our tourism industry — and I am glad we have the best man on the job. I have been doing some research, and from what I understand, our source markets, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, regardless of where you are coming from, they require a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon return. Many of our visitors spend a few days here and if they can't go back to work, this may be a deterrent for them from visiting. Last week I had a preliminary meeting with Guam's newest Japanese consul general, Mr. Kobayashi Toshiaki, and presented to him the Guam Healthy Entry and Departure Program draft bill. I have a follow-up meeting with him (on June 18).

(On June 17), I met with Consul General Vic April from the Republic of Palau, he was eager to have this discussion, and I have been informed that he is working with his officials back in Palau. I also met with the Head of Mission Ms. Hee-soon Lim from Korea. She informed me that Korea also has a mandatory 14-day quarantine period upon arrival to Korea and that all passengers have to be tested within three days of arrival to Korea. Korea has seen a small spike in cases, and she indicated that these are all from incoming visitors. I will be having meetings with the remainder of the consuls general this week and hopefully we can get some better insights on how to move forward.

I did meet with the business community, who were opposed to the idea because they say that testing will be a deterrent for tourists to come to Guam. However, given that their home countries will not be allowing them to come back without quarantine, I am grateful that along with Sen. Jose "Pedo" Terlaje, and Sen. Clynt Ridgell, this can be a compromise measure. Obviously we need buy-in from our regional partners, and I hope the meetings this week can provide some clarity.

Therese Terlaje

Together, we must ensure Guam is the clean and safe destination we will advertise, and continue fortifying small businesses, health care and contingency planning.

Bill 353-35 would authorize expenditure of the GVB Rainy Day Fund toward marketing and destination improvement strategies, in light of the (Tourist Attraction Fund) shortfall projected through next year.

As oversight chair for tourism, I continue to advocate reduction of the BPT for stakeholders such as locally owned tours, restaurants, and shops whose employees are the backbone of the industry.

By override of Bill 333-35, we have required emergency funds expenditure reports, to ensure GVB and the executive branch prioritize local and federal funds toward safe reopening.

Kelly Marsh

Last month I wrote a letter to then CEO Pilar Laguana encouraging the leadership at GVB of using the present slowdown of tourism as a chance to diversify our offerings to visitors and work to make more of our available through remote or virtual means. Although Guam's beauty and culture remains best experienced in person, there are a number of ways — for instance through virtual wedding ceremonies, virtual cultural performances or lessons — to making Guam's landscape and natural world available on running and other apps, where we can still promote and brand ourselves and draw people in for an eventual in-person visit, even in a global shutdown.

Mary Torres

Supporting small businesses is vital for the industry's recovery, which is why I voted to expand tax exemptions for businesses along with every other relief package that has gone through the body this term.

That said, no amount of relief can make up for lost revenue due to Guam's lack of visitors. Reviving our economic engine will require adjusting quarantine mandates both here and in our primary markets while maintaining Guam as a safe destination. This decision must be made in tandem with regional partners, not by lawmakers alone. I remain ready to support any initiative that aids these processes.

Louise Muna

As tourism has been completely nonexistent since March of this year, GVB must be made the first priority for funding using the Tourist Attraction Fund to bolster Guam's marketing efforts abroad to include social media and travel booking sites.

We should also consider an automatic extension to 2025 of any qualifying certificate that is expired or expiring before 2025.

There are several news reports that airlines in the U.S. are looking to screen all passengers and crew prior to boarding. Since testing is not 100% accurate, we may also want to consider screening passengers on arrival as well.

Sabina Perez

For many years, the tourism industry has asked the government to solve our islandwide littering and pollution problems, which have a direct negative impact on our tourism economy.

In anticipation of flights resuming, we must do everything we can to compete internationally for tourists to return to Guam.

I have introduced Bill 362-35, known as the Guam Zero Waste Act, which properly funds a comprehensive islandwide cleanup program that promotes recycling and zero-waste initiatives. It also ... provides grants and loans to local businesses, many of whom will cater to the tourism industry.

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