By Joe Murphy

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Nov. 24) - One of the best news stories I've read in a long time tells how the Boeing Company of Seattle just sold 30 of its 737 jet planes to China for some $1.7 billion.

That, my friends, is very good news for America, which has a big deficit with China. It also could be a big step in the promotion of Chinese tourism on Guam.

In a related deal, China also signed contracts with GE's Aircraft Engines division to supply engines for a new regional aircraft China is developing. This little deal could be worth as much as $3 billion over 20 years.

Some weeks ago, it was announced that Detroit's "Big Three" automakers have reached trade pacts with China that will allow them to export thousands of vehicles and to increase their stakes in a growing automotive market that could eventually become the world's largest.

All this must stick in the craw of the gloomiest naysayers on Guam, who say that there isn't a chance of developing any tourism with China. These are the same people, who 35 years ago, said that no self-respecting Japanese would ever come to Guam, "the Rock," to vacation. For the past several years, we've had more than a million visitors on this island, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars in jobs and taxes.

To be honest, I was more than a bit skeptical in the early day about tourism. Guam's main claim to fame in those days was the military, which then controlled some of the best island beaches, and at least one third of the island's land. Guam was best remembered as the scene of one of the war's fiercest battles between the Japanese and the Americans.

Besides, back in the late 1960s, when tourism began here, the island looked pretty horrible from the ravages of Typhoon Karen. We had no hotels, only a few restaurants, no tour guides, a limited number of people who spoke Japanese, and no attractions to speak of.

I admit that tourism can be a sensitive industry. Take Bali, for instance.

In September 2002, 156,923 visitors arrived in Bali. Then came a fatal bombing that took the lives of 200 people, mostly Australians. The next month, October, tourism dropped off to 86,901, nearly half of the September total, and has been slow to recover.

Guam, too, has had trouble with visitors. They dropped a year ago in December, thanks to two typhoons. Then came SARS, which was followed by the Iraq war.

But now there is a new awareness of tourism, and the opportunities the industry brings. With every crisis, new challenges arise. I think that the past two years of terrorism, wars and disease have passed, and an opportunity awaits the island in China, with its 1.2 billion inhabitants, who are eager to travel and now beginning to have the funds to do just that.

A couple of weeks ago, a couple of Chinese ships came into port in Apra Harbor, a visit that would have been impossible a few years ago. The Navy welcomed them to Guam with open arms, a sign that things are getting better in our relationship. Guam has many Chinese in our community, mostly businessmen and women, who can help bridge the language gap.

I've been to China a couple of times, and was amazed to see the booming economy and the increased standard of living, which will result in a huge middle class, able and willing to travel. China now has a $103 billion surplus in trade with the United States and both countries wish to reduce that. They can, through tourism.

I can't see why the Chinese, with the right promotions, wouldn't want to come to a piece of America with warm skies, and warm waters that is only a few hours away by air.

Guam, however, can't sit on its hands. We need to promote the island in China. Already two of our governors have gone there with GVB officials. We also need to clean up the island, and to introduce more attractions, such as casino gaming and sports tourism.

What an opportunity awaits us. We only need one percent of the Chinese population to visit yearly to create another 10,000 jobs and an astonishing GovGuam tax bonanza.

November 24, 2003

Joe Murphy is a former editor of the Pacific Daily News

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