BY MORGAN LEGEL and MAUREEN N. MARATITA
Japanese and Korean travel and tourism experts who spoke on June 7 at the Guam Travel & Tourism Association recovery planning forum on June 7 at the Hyatt Regency Guam had thorough analyzed not only business during the pandemic, but as their citizens looked to travel, to include to Guam.
Jin-Ju Lee, South Pacific Travel Planning Team Leader for Hana Tours – which has a 45% market share in Korea – said there has been a big change in the demographics of travelers since 2019, due to the fear of COVID for unvaccinated children. This had led to tourist preferences for more expensive locations such as the Tsubaki Tower, the Dusit Thani Guam Resort and the Hilton Guam Resort & Spa.
Still, the market had various sectors which offered Korean tourists options with more expenses included as well as premium offering that include art and culture, health and wellness and fine dining options. She showed that 53% in the first half of 2022 had chosen standard packages that include airfares, hotel, airport pick-up and drop-off, plus major sightseeing and guide fees, while 33% had chosen a basic package with airfares, hotel and pick-up and drop-off. Additionally, she said 10% had chosen a saving package and only 4% a premium package. These divisions showed possibilities to increase the “premium long-stay” specific market, she said.
Domestic travel has increased four times more than before the pandemic Lee said.
South Korea removed the final quarantine – for unvaccinated travelers June 8, though PCR or antigen tests are still required to enter the country. Also from June 8, Incheon Airport will open 24 hours a day without any flight restrictions. Flights from Korea to Guam are expected to increase by 20% to Guam.
Masamichi Takayasu is vice general manager of the Hotel Consulting Department of the Travel & Mobility Business of the Rakuten Group Inc. Even though the Japanese travel industry was heavily affected by COVID, Rakuten Travel has faired better than the whole industry, his presentation said, retaining more than 20% of domestic travel in 2021 and retaining a quarter of the travel agency market now.
Takayasu said the weekly search volume for Guam on Google increased by 75% as of May compared to 2019 and Rakuten has seen 69% of all booking searches. “We are focusing on a seasonal promotion and a daily promotion,” he said. “All Guam hotels are joining this promotion for six months.”
Samuel Shinohara, managing director of United Airlines, said business is slowly returning on United. “We are staring to see an uptick in the bookings.” United is “working smartly to add capacity back into the market,” he said.
Telecom industry experts compared resources in Guam with higher expectations from the island’s tourism markets.
Jay R. Shedd, chief marketing officer for Citadel Pacific Ltd., said internet penetration is Korea is 96.51%, with internet speeds of 214.47Mbps. “That’s twice as much as most countries offer,” he said. Shedd said Chinese and Taiwanese use the “super app WeChat,” which offers combination of messaging, payments, e-commerce, and more.
Shedd said potential customers are also on Korean Kakao Talk, on Instagram and YouTube. Businesses should go where their customers are digitally and spend more on marketing.
Andrew M. Gayle, chief operating officer of GTA, said Guam can expect to see use of 5G increase. “That will start to grow. Only one carrier has 5G [Docomo Pacific]. We’re all starting to work on it.”
Average data usage on-island is in-line with the U.S. average he said. “We use 10 to 12 gigabytes per month.”
The island’s location brings opportunities, he said. “Guam is one of the most connected islands in the Pacific, just because of our location. Most of the traffic does not stop in Guam, but it allows us to have access to this capacity.”’
That may offer opportunities from data storage businesses in Asia, Gayle said. “They’re not interested in having it in Hong Kong anymore. They’re a little worried about Taiwan.”
As the island’s economy slowly recovers, Guam must be ready to welcome tourists back by summer, was the general conclusion among local participants.
Panelist Artemio “Ricky” Hernandez, deputy executive manager of the A.B. Won Pat International Airport Authority, Guam said during COVID the airport worked on various capital improvement projects, so it would be ready once recovery happens. These including improved processes with taxi operators and baggage cart retrieval and even maintenance, so the jet bridges properly operate.
“It was important for us to prioritize these, even before the pandemic,” he said.
Projects currently underway include the master plan update, the terminal apron and taxi rehabilitation. “As tourism begins to recover, so will the airport,” he said. GIA expects 70 flights in June, he said.
Hernandez told the Journal the airport is working with its regulatory partners, such as the Transport Security Administration to smooth passengers on arrival and departure and the addition of two screening lanes, plus new technology. “It increases throughput by 300 passengers per hour,” he said. “We’re working with CBP [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] to staff up that side. As more passengers come in, we’re working with them to see if we can staff up more lanes for passengers to get quickly processed.” Hernandez said Guam has partnerships with CBP “to help them staff up, whether it’s with assistance with overtime or staff.”
In addition, GIA has redesigned the arrival area “so we can fit more people. The corridor actually took a lot of space up in the immigration area. We’re also giving them additional space also, in that area,” he said.
GAI is adequately staffed, Hernandez said, as safety and security had remained important. “In terms of our ability to hire, we’re doing well with our police division and our operations division – those that operate 24/7.”
Development of the food court remains a work in progress, he said. “Throughout the pandemic was probably not a good time to issue out solicitations.”
Jay R. Merrill, CEO of Market Research and Development Inc., as well as a board member of the new tourism group, said “The pandemic is, without question, the greatest economic disaster this island has faced since World War II.”
Merrill said Guam would have to improve its product – for instance by keeping its sites clean.
Panelist Akihiro Tani, general manager of Pacific Underwater Observatories Inc., which does business Fisheye Marine Park, said, “As we slowly recover, we have to follow other tourist destinations, but it will take us longer.” He said competing destinations are way ahead on recovery.
“The difference between Hawaii, Okinawa and Guam is that our location is unique,” he said. “It makes our recovery very slow. We need to take more time to get back to original condition, and that’s where we are.”
Panelist Melanie R. Mendiola, CEO and administrator for the Guam Economic Development Authority said that tackling Guam’s economic issues is best done by viewing them from all different angles, from GEDA to other government agencies and groups.
Mendiola also said construction is overperforming while tourism is underperforming, and that the island needs to find a way to meet in the middle, especially since a lot of employees from the tourism industry have found jobs elsewhere.
“The tourism industry has lost a number of employees to other industries, including construction, because the employees couldn’t wait,” she said.
During the forum the travel association also handed out certificates of thanks, including Lt. Governor Joshua F. Tenorio, Mendiola, Tenorio, and Edward Camacho, GEDA’s business and economic development manager. (See photo) mbj