By Gene Park

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Oct. 16) - If there's one thing Guam needs to do to improve tourism, it's provide more local food, according to focus group studies presented at the Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association meeting yesterday at the Outrigger Guam Resort.

The September study of 49 people in Tokyo said Japanese tourists perceive Guam to being culturally lacking, in part because of an insufficient variety of food. Out of the group, 29 had visited Guam before, while the rest were considering it.

"As far as some tourists are concerned, culture equals food," said Joe Ceavey, a Japan-based consultant for Japan Market Intelligence K.K. "Other places like Thailand, China and even Okinawa -- they all have unique food."

Ceavey's study was based on two areas of focus. The rational appeal for tourists lies in the price and convenience, in which Guam is strong. The emotional appeal is where the island needs assistance.

"People have said that there are few non-beach activities besides shopping," Ceavey said. "Marketing the island should not focus on shopping, but rather the sense of relaxation, or activities like marine sports, which is year-round, something other places don't have."

Ceavey said the conclusion came from talking to groups of parents, whose children quickly grew bored of beach activities. Another group that expressed boredom were elders in their early 60s, which Ceavey said not to underestimate.

"We found that elder visitors are a lot younger than we thought," Ceavey said. "They come to the island seeking culture and stimulation, and that's what should be focused on."

Ceavey also said that the island's natural beauty, particularly the blue skies and sea, appeal to tourists.

"There seems to be a lack of communication in that regard," Ceavey said. "What needs to be shown is the 'hidden Guam,' showing pictures of the south."

Jay Merrill, GHRA chairman of Market Research and Development, also made a presentation on exit surveys conducted in July and August on visitor's expectations and impressions of Guam, with 400 tourists surveyed each month.

The survey revealed that the island's safety gained the most approval, whereas the cleanliness, or lack of, in public restrooms gained the most disapproval.

The exit surveys are an attempt to make gauging the market more user-friendly than in the past. Merrill said that it was difficult to ensure timely information.

"Practitioners in the past looked at it as a doorstop," Merrill said. "The market is a living, breathing organism, and doing this month-to-month will establish the immediacy we need and make the information relevant."

The surveys are done at the airport security screening as visitors arrive and depart the island. Some are done face-to-face, and some are filled out, depending on the situation, Merrill said.

Pa'a Taotao Tano', a cultural preservation group which joined GHRA last month, hopes to assist the hotels in differentiating the island as a culturally unique destination, said former Supreme Court Chief Justice Benjamin J.F. Cruz, treasurer of the group.

"We want to help in educating employees in hotels so they understand the culture," Cruz said. "If a guests asks for a certain kind of food, the employee can respond, give advice to tourists and direct them to anything that is indigenous to the culture."

Frank Rabon, the group's creative director, said the group is working together with Guam Visitors Bureau General Manager Tony Lamorena to create an educational institute for hotel employees to become familiar with the island's culture. Rabon said that employees versed in the indigenous culture can hold workshops in weaving and other arts, which solves the problem of the lack of non-beach activities.

"In essence, we must start now in giving the right information to tourists," Rabon said. "I think we're the only country in the world that promotes other cultures but our own. It's our hope that tourists can take something that says that they experienced something cultural and unique."

October 16, 2003

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