By Steve Limtiaco

Pacific Daily News

HAGATNA, Guam (Sept. 24) - Chinese tourists could double Guam's tourism arrivals within a few years, Gov. Felix Camacho said yesterday, provided the Chinese government allows them to come here and the U.S. government waives their visa requirements.

Camacho will travel to the People's Republic of China tomorrow to ask Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhao Xing to grant Guam "Approved Destination Status," which would allow tourists, students and business people from China to come to the island. The governor said it took nine months to arrange the invitation by the high-ranking official.

The only visitors to Guam from mainland China have been government officials or delegations with education visas, the governor said.

"What we're trying to crack into is the visitor market," he said. "The average Chinese visitor is spending about $1,500 on retail, versus the $620 we're getting from Japan."

Camacho said success in China could make it easier to get a visa-waiver from the U.S. government. He said the past administration took the opposite approach -- asking for U.S. approval before approaching Chinese officials.

"We are going to be successful. I'm very confident that we will get the People's Republic of China to grant Guam the ADS status," Camacho said. "From there I will have to work with the State Department."

He speculated that approval from China will take several months and approval from the United States for a visa waiver could take twice as long.

"I'd give it a year, if we can work things out," he said.

Camacho noted that the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is on track to get similar approved status from China. Unlike Guam, the CNMI does not have the visa problem to contend with, Camacho said, because it controls its own immigration.

He said CNMI tourism could receive an immediate boost of about 100,000 Chinese visitors when the Chinese government gives the nod.

Camacho said another goal of his trip is to ask Chinese officials to allow an economic mission to Guam, bringing potential investors to the island.

In addition to his Monday meeting with the foreign minister, Camacho is scheduled to meet with the governor of Guangdon province, the mayor of Shanghai and the mayor of Guangzhou during his seven-day trip.

According to the governor's office, Camacho will visit Japan immediately after China to attend the annual travel conference.

Accompanying the governor will be his spokesman, John Dela Rosa, and Carlos Barretto of KGTF, who will be recording the China trip for a documentary.

The governor and Dela Rosa's travel costs will be $7,761.28, paid by the governor's office budget. Barretto's travel will cost KGTF more than $2,400, according to the governor's office, but KGTF hopes to find a sponsor for the one-hour documentary later.

September 24, 2003

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