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By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Jan. 6) - Guam's number of tourists fell below one million last year with the total at 857,030, excluding visitors who came on military transportation and civilian ships in December, Guam Visitors Bureau statistics released yesterday showed.

But that's the past.

The future, as seen by the Guam Visitors Bureau, looks promising, based in part on visitor arrival numbers last month and strong bookings for this month.

''We're cautiously optimistic,'' said Ernie Galito, GVB deputy general manager.

Part of GVB's optimism was the climbing visitor numbers during the latter half of the year, which peaked in December at 90,992 visitors. Last year's highest number total visitor arrivals in one day was recorded on Dec. 30, when 4,815 tourists arrived on Guam.

"This is a strong second-half recovery. The first half of the year was pretty dismal,'' Galito said of last year's tourist numbers.

Guam saw visitor arrivals decline by about a third during the first half of last year as fears over the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, the island's Supertyphoon Pongsona devastation and the start of the war in Iraq pulled down the island visitor industry.

Galito said the island's tourism recovery during the second half of last year was led by significant improvements in visitor arrivals from Japan. But the second-half recovery in the Japanese market did not go high enough to lift the total of Japanese visitors in 2003 above the 2002 total.

Guam's Japanese visitors totaled 659,421last year, a 16 percent decline from the 786,761 the year before.

The Japanese market's rebound during the latter months of last year is expected to spill over this month and throughout the rest of the year, based on the visitors bureau's forecast.

This month, Japanese visitor arrivals are being pushed up by a variety of factors, which Galito said include: the continued strengthening of the yen's value against the dollar; more group-tour arrivals; and an increase in golf-related trips.

Weeks from now, Guam will welcome dozens of players and staff of Japan's most popular professional baseball team, the Yomiuri Giants, which is scheduled to train at the Leo Palace Resort on Manenggon Hills.

Galito said about 150 members of the Japanese press are expected to cover the Giants' training on Guam.

GVB General Manager Tony Lamorena said last year that the Giants are expected to draw thousands of tourists to Guam during their training.

Also later this month, Guam is expected to see arrivals increase as visitors from such places as Hong Kong and Taiwan travel overseas to celebrate the Chinese New Year, Galito said.

Guam also benefited from some Asian tourists' reluctance to visit Hong Kong, Taiwan or Thailand because of lingering SARS fears, he said.

But while the visitors bureau saw visitor arrivals from Japan rebound during the last half of last year, South Korean visitor arrivals declined, which was a change from previous years' increases.

Many price-oriented South Koreans last year went to other vacation destinations where the value of their currency, the won, has greater purchasing value, Galito said.

And many other South Koreans stayed home because of economic concerns in their country, he said.

South Korean visitor arrivals decreased along with the reduction in airline seats for the South Korean market last year. After Asia Airlines' pullout, Korean Air remains the only provider of direct, scheduled flights between South Korea and Guam.

January 6, 2003

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