BY MORGAN LEGEL
As Guam rounds the new year corner, Guam’s social event calendar continues to dwindle. With current COVID restrictions in place and indoor gatherings limited to 25 people, non-profits trying to plan events and galas — as well as the hotels trying to host them — are stuck at a standstill.
Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero told the Journal on Dec. 28 there is no good news for them yet. “The COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly has tested our patience …,” she said. “With the impending introduction of the Omicron variant and concerns surrounding its impact on communities, it is nearly impossible to predict the public health policies that we may need to adapt in order to effectively target this variant and other variants.”
What the governor also said did not address easing of restrictions for the hospitality industry or its patrons. On the contrary.
“While it is too soon to say if there will be any additional restrictions, the mask mandate will foreseeably remain in place as it continues to be one of our greatest safeguards against the virus,” Leon Guerrero said.
Caroline H. Sablan, vice president and relationship manager at the Bank of Guam is vice president of the Guam Women’s Club. She told the Journal the anniversary gala originally planned for February has been tentatively postponed to the end of the year, ten months away.
“Of course, this will depend on pandemic-related restrictions at that time,” she said.
The main goal of the event was to fund two four-year University of Guam scholarships.
“During pre-pandemic times, we typically anticipated around 350 to 400 attendees,” Sablan said. “Given the circumstances brought forth by the pandemic for the last two years, we would consider transitioning to a hybrid event.”
Essentially, a virtual platform would still allow GWC to host its usual events such as silent auctions, costume contests and raffle prize drawings while waiting for the gala to become feasible.
Chita A. Blaise, CEO of the Guam Chapter of the American Red Cross is in a similar situation with the annual Red Ball gala. The 20th annual ball is currently postponed to March, and Blaise said the Red Cross is “keeping their fingers crossed” that the ball will go ahead.
Luckily for the Guam Chapter, there have been some generous donations throughout the year, and Blaise said she is “looking forward to more before 2021 ends.”
With the postponement, the Red Cross has had to find alternative funding.
“We needed to be very creative and raise some much-needed funds to augment us, since the majority of the funds for the Red Cross come from the Red Ball,” she said.
But, as far as the pandemic is concerned, Blaise said she understands the measures being taken, but she doesn’t know if the Red Cross will be able to attract the crowd that it typically attracts.
“We’d be very lucky to attract 400 people, but we’re very optimistic about it,” she said.
In any case, she said, pandemic or not, ball or not, “We can never give up, we have a mission.”
The Pink Ball Committee is also uncertain as to its plans. Leah Beth O. Naholowaa, chairwoman of the Pink Ball Committee; said, “Although the Pink Ball is postponed for the meantime, we would like to plan for early Spring 2022 if possible, or when the restrictions lift for in-door social gatherings.”
Naholowaa said attendee numbers would be upwards of 100. “The goal will be between 100 to 200 people – or more. However, we will comply with the guidelines to ensure health and safety remain the top priorities for all guests.”
The ball itself remains important, she said. “Our fundraiser is the main go-to, as it brings successful revenue to provide donations to our beneficiaries.”
As to alternative strategies, Naholowaa said, “The possibility of keeping the Pink Ball spirit alive is to be innovative in hosting a virtual ball — as a last resort.”
Maureen N. Maratita, publisher of Glimpses Media, which includes both Guam Business Magazine and the Journal, said the Guam Business Magazine Executive of the Year gala has been moved to May 7. “All of our events have beneficiaries and are typically sold out. We were fortunate to be able to hold the second MBJ Charity Golf Tournament in November at Country Club of the Pacific, which benefited the Alee Shelter’s programs,” she said. “I really don’t know what to expect yet this year. We continue to be hopeful and like Make-A-Wish and Sentry Hospitality did last year, we would work within any guidelines to safely and responsibly host. That’s in everybody’s interests,” Maratita said.
While major social events are still in limbo, the hotels that would normally be hosting the events are hopeful as well.
“I understand we cannot fully erase restrictions,” said Sheila Baker, senior director of sales overall for the Hilton Guam Resort & Spa. “However, it would be highly beneficial to allow all large events and social gatherings to operate at 100% capacity and for restaurants, bars and gyms to no longer implement 6-foot social distancing requirements. Easing the capacity restrictions will help recoup revenue lost during the pandemic.”
The Hilton will always adhere to local mandates, she said, but it has been a struggle.
The Hilton has also had to postpone its own 2022 special party.
“As for our 50th anniversary celebration, due to the Omicron threat, we decided to postpone our corporate event to take place on May 20, instead of during our anniversary month in February,” Baker said.
Hotels and restaurants have seen as much business as restrictions will permit, which has brought some relief.
The Hilton is taking advantage of other opportunities, outside of corporate events and galas, with holiday celebrations and local patronage. With a New Year’s Eve party planned at the Tree Bar, featuring The Dolls for live entertainment, the adult-only crowd will have a place to gather after 9 p.m. Capitalizing on traditional annual milestones for 2022, Hilton is already planning Valentine’s Day, with dining options at Roy’s Restaurant and the Islander Terrace, as well as romantic staycation packages.
“We were grateful for all the support from our local patrons, which accounted for a successful turn out during Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday period,” Baker said. “It was a wonderful gathering of not only our island residents, but our visiting sailors on board the USS Carl Vinson.”
The Hyatt Regency Guam is also struggling with the lack of major events.
There have been cancellations in both the restaurants and the event spaces, said Madelaine Cosico, director of sales and marketing at the Hyatt. Between larger businesses that are waiting for restrictions to be lifted and the cancellation of the New Year fireworks in Tumon Bay (reinstated at Hagatna Bay), customers have rescheduled events or backed out.
Buffet venues were fully booked for New Year’s Eve though, and the hotel had other plans for that night, including a wine pairing and a countdown in the lounge.
The hotel did get an unexpected catering bonus.
“It has been surprising how much business we’ve gotten from companies with to-go orders” Cosico said. There were at least three significantly large to-go orders which Cosico were “very unexpected.”
A saving grace for the Hyatt is that the hotel has had scheduled events in its outdoor areas every weekend. The outdoor areas can house 90 people, while with current restrictions, the indoor areas can only do 22 people, when staff is counted.
“We’re unable to capitalize on our indoor event spaces,” Cosico said. “It’s the restrictions that are not allowing us to maximize our potential. While I understand, we can do at least 50% with all the protocols in place.”
On the plus side, the tendency to eat out has not abated. She said the Hyatt restaurants are doing very well, especially with the holiday season.
“We’ve had to turn away a lot of people,” Cosico said. mbj