MANILA — The newly opened representative office of the Guam Visitors Bureau has an ambitious schedule of events planned to attract Filipinos and expatriates living in the Philippines to visit Guam.

Herbert P. Arabelo president of Matua Agupa Corp. said his group is initially committed to bring some 8 000 Filipino tourists to Guam in fiscal 2005. In fiscal 2004 about 7 000 tourists from the Philippines were able to visit Guam.

Among the activities lined up are sporting events like celebrity golf tournaments media familiarization tours and advertising placements in Philippine publications. These activities can lead to a higher awareness of Guam as a tourist destination and eventually enable GVB to attain its target of attracting some 50 000 Filipino tourists by 2010 he said.

The main obstacle in attaining these tourist arrivals objectives however is the visa issue. Because of the continued threat of terrorism against the United States its embassies worldwide have implemented stricter visa rules and procedures for travelers.

According to Dingdong Avanzado vice president of Matua allowing Filipinos to get a visa even if it’s solely a “Guam only” visa from the U.S. Embassy in Manila will boost tourist arrivals.

“I heard they [U.S. Embassy] have started giving out ‘Guam only’ visas. That’s already a big thing. We had a chance to meet with travel agents and we informed them of Sen. Tony Unpingco’s move to talk to the U.S. Embassy here to make the ‘Guam only’ visa a regular thing. They said that would help to bring more passengers to Guam ” said Avanzado a popular Philippines singer who has traveledoften to Guam for concerts and visited friends since 1985.

GVB had a representative office in Manila before but did not function as a marketing office said Avanzado. It eventually closed down [in April 2003]. “It was more like a medical referral office ” he said. The government of Guam now has a separate medical referral office that reopened in July 2004.

The Matua Agupa Corp. is a joint venture of Arabelo and Avanzado’s companies — Limelight Entertainment Productions and Phenomenal Entertainment. Both men have been active in the fields of event management and entertainment.

“Our contract is for three years renewable every year. Our budget this fiscal year is half of what the previous company had but we wanted to prove ourselves first ” Arabelo said. The first year contract was effective Feb 1 until Sept. 30. The contract has a value of $24 500 to Sept. 30 and $36 000 per annum thereafter.

For now the main target markets of GVB Philippines are “expatriates the A and B groups [upper and middle classes] who have money to spend businessmen and professionals like doctors ” Arabelo said. He said Filipinos who also have relatives working and living in Guam are also being eyed.

“Our thrust is to introduce Guam as an alternative tourist destination ” Avanzado said. “It’s only 3-and-1/2 hours away from Manila it’s safe; clean air; it’s a duty-free island and you don’t feel you’re so far away from home. And you get five-star hotel amenities.”

Arabelo said Guam has a full list of attractions for visitors. “There are a lot of golf courses and you can go snorkeling right at the back of your hotel. Like in Ypao beach there are about 1 000 species of fish. It’s basically a balance between nature and the amenities of the modern USA.”

Other activities on the drawing board are a tournament by well-known Filipino basketball players under the aegis of the Philippine Basketball Association extreme adventure sports parties and events to bring together Guam Filipinos with their relatives in the Philippines. Matua is also networking with airlines and travel agencies to help promote Guam.

On May 17 GVB launched its Philippine marketing office with colorful ceremonies at the Century Plaza Hotel Manila owned by Lucio Tan chief executive officer of Philippine Airlines who owns Micronesia Mall and the Tropicana Hotel in Guam.

Traditional Guam dances and songs were provided by Guam cultural entertainers flown in for the event. The launch was also attended by David R. Tydingco chairman of the visitors bureau Antonio C. “Tony” Lamorena V general manager of the bureau and Emilio Uy owner of National Office Supply representing the Filipino community on Guam. The guest speaker was Sen. Antonio R. Unpingco chairman of the committee on Tourism Maritime Military and Veterans Affairs of the 28th Guam Legislature.

During the affair awards were given to outstanding travel agents who were able to bring the most passengers to Guam as well as to Philippine Airlines and Continental Airlines the carriers flying the Manila-Guam route.

Other GVB representative offices are located in Japan Hong Kong South Korea and Australia. MBJ