GUAM VISITORS BUREAU AIMS FOR CHINESE TOURISM

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By Odessa McCarty

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (December 3, 2001 – Pacific Daily News)---The Guam Visitors Bureau is pushing for China to be added to Guam's visa-waiver program, to help open a new market of tourists, a tourism official said.

The GVB board approved the use of $24,000 to contract Berliner, Candon and Jimison, a firm based in Washington, D.C., to speak with federal officials about admitting people from China into Guam without travel visas, said Leigh Gutierrez, the bureau's spokeswoman.

Stipulations to the visa-waiver program are determined by the federal government and INS officials, she added.

Guam Delegate Robert Underwood said he supports the expansion of Guam's tourism base and enticing Chinese tourists to come to Guam. But he does not think the timing is right for the visa-waiver program, given the current immigration situation and Guam's previous encounters with illegal aliens.

"There's no doubt in my mind that this is desirable but ... especially now that we have calls to tighten all U.S. borders after the Sept. 11 attacks ... (it will be) a tough challenge to convince (the Immigration and Naturalization Service) to accept this," Underwood said.

He said that Guam "has had its share of difficulties with illegal (aliens) from China."

A steady stream of Chinese illegal aliens poured into Guam by boat for a period of time in 1999.

People from Myanmar for a time used the visa-waiver program as a loophole to enter the United States, until that country was excluded from the program. Underwood said these same problems would pose significant challenges if the program was implemented for China.

Gutierrez said since the target market would be affluent Chinese travelers, she thinks they would not abuse the program and would instead promote trade with and travel to Guam.

The contract with the firm is pending the passing of Bill 209, introduced by Sen. Felix Camacho, R-Tamuning. That bill would allow the visitors bureau the flexibility to move funds to different markets needing more focus, Gutierrez said.

The GVB board also has approved $18,500 to be used by Hong Kong marketing representatives to promote Guam as a safe destination for Chinese travelers, according to a news release.

Guam is currently not on the list of places Chinese citizens are allowed to visit, Gutierrez said.

For additional reports from the Pacific Daily News, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Pacific Daily News (Guam).

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