The year 2007 marks the 40th anniversary of tourism on Guam which began May 1 1967 with the arrival of 109 tourists from Japan. Gerald S.A. Perez general manager of the Guam Visitors Bureau; said the bureau will sponsor and co-sponsor many events during tourism month which falls in May to commemorate the event.

Perez said the celebration of the 40th anniversary consists of two parts. "The first part has to do with a lot of things that are locally generated to recognize tourism "¦ Beyond that we have a series of things associated with Japan that would occur throughout the year. In fact we’re going to Japan for a press briefing announcing the 40th year of tourism on Guam which was ignited by the Japan market. "

The events on Guam include a "Make your own commercial" contest for children in grades six through 12 with the winning commercial being aired in local movie theaters; radio and television spots; a presentation by Peter Apo of the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association on the importance of the "sense of place" for the host culture and visitors to the destination and how a "sense of place" enhance the destination’s value; and the Guam Extreme Adventure Race 7.

As part of the bureau’s promotion of the event to the Japan market it is proposing a search for the first 109 tourists who came to Guam in 1967. The Guam Visitors Bureau would hold a nationwide search in Japan for those tourists and invite them to Guam as goodwill ambassadors. "We may not find all 109 of them but it’d be interesting to see how many we find. This will be publicized in Japan to give us the visibility."

One of the passengers on the first flight was Hidenobu "George" Takagi president of Takagi & Associates Inc who came here with his father to explore an opportunity to grow peppermint for a Japanese toothpaste company. Little did we know that the trip would lead to him moving to Guam and becoming president of a successful insurance company.

Takagi said when he first arrived on Guam there was not much to do and there were less than 50 000 tourists a year and he was happy to see Guam’s growth to more than 1 million tourists a year. He said "It was a successful trip. I decided to start a farming business in Guam. From 1969 to 1973 with seven of my classmates I grew cucumbers and Japanese watermelon."

The Guam Visitors Bureau is also proposing a search for the honeymooners who came to Guam 40 years ago. It will invite honeymooners who came to Guam from 1967 through 1969 and invite them to Guam as well. It will also propose a search for couples that want to hold their wedding on Guam to create a link between those who were married 40 years ago and the new generation.

Perez said "There’s been a lot of changes in the last 40 years. If you go back to the beginning the initial visitors were "¦ people who came to search for the remains of people from World War II looking for closure and honeymooners." He said that as the market matured Guam began to see an influx of younger tourists because of Guam’s close proximity to Japan. "Over the years Guam had attracted a lot of young people and first time travelers overseas. Guam actually played a big role in Japan’s overseas travel market because Guam was the first step for them to experience international travel. The whole travel industry in Japan for overseas travel actually grew in part because of Guam facilitating the overseas travel experience and people in Japan have recognized that."

More recently Guam has become an important destination for families and the wedding market.

Perez said Guam’s tourism is now at a point where it needs to retool its product and create an intrinsic demand. "In the past Guam benefited from its close proximity to Japan and an aggressive marketing program to generate business for Guam. What has happened more recently however there have been more and more destinations opening up that are attracting Japanese customers and the overseas travel in Japan has leveled off."

Within the next five years Perez said Guam must focus on strengthening the Japan market and also start diversifying its source markets to lessen its dependence on Japan. "I’m talking about beyond East Asia. I’m talking about the U.S. The U.S. is a big market and we have an opportunity to attract more people from the U.S. now that Guam is enjoying more visibility with the military movement there’s a lot more interest in Guam. Visitors from the U.S now represent the third largest segment behind Japan and Korea."

Mary C. Torres deputy general manager of the Guam Visitors Bureau; said that Guam shouldn’t be complacent and take tourism for granted. "The community really has to buy into the delivery of the product and invest in the ventures that will reap benefits for them. There’s always a residual benefit from the tourism industry but there’s even more to be had by the residents by buying into the delivery of the product " she said. MBJ