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By Gene Park

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Jan. 7) - If the tourism industry picks up, then front desk attendant Estee Felipe won't have to worry about moonlighting.

Felipe, an employee of Pacific Islands Club for four years, said she considered holding two jobs earlier last year, when visitor arrivals were low and her hours were cut to 32 a week.

"I really wish it stays busy all the time," said the 28-year-old Dededo resident. "So that way I don't have to think about getting another job."

Last year Guam received fewer than a million visitors, with a total of 857,030, excluding December military and civilian sea arrivals, the Guam Visitors Bureau said.

It's the first time in many years that Guam visitor arrivals have fallen below one million a year, and the decline was caused in part by the Supertyphoon Pongsona devastation, fears over the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and travel jitters when the war in Iraq started.

Hilton Guam Resort & Spa General Manager Manfred Pieper said he does see visitor arrivals surpassing a million this year, but said it will take more than 1.3 million visitors to see significant growth in jobs.

"All in all, a million will help stabilize the economy and our cash flow," Pieper said. "You may create some jobs on the lower echelon. But it will not lead to a large influx."

Pieper said room occupancy rates should exceed 70 percent throughout the year before hotels can think about new investments and expansion projects, which in turn would produce more jobs.

Penetrating the Chinese visitor market and legalizing casino gambling also will bode well for the industry beyond this year, Pieper said. Pieper has been advocating on behalf of Hilton corporate's stance in support of controlled casino gambling on Guam.

GVB General Manager Tony Lamorena said barring any possible adverse world events or natural disasters, Guam can expect to exceed 1.3 million visitors by 2006.

By focusing on "image campaigns" and advertising on Japanese TV and print media, Lamorena said the visitors bureau hopes to attract more middle- and higher-income travelers, whom he said may become repeat visitors.

"The thing with the tactical campaigns we've been having in the past, they were only good for a certain time period," Lamorena said. "Whereas the image campaign is sustained throughout the entire year."

Under the bureau's previous management, "tactical campaigns'' have included issuing discount coupons and $20 checks as incentives to visit the island, as well as competing with other destinations with bargain prices.

"We're getting away from that now," Lamorena said. "We no longer want to compete for price. We want to compete now for quality, because quality travelers spend more per person."

Lamorena said current visitors spend $600 on average per person. In 1996, before the Asian financial crisis rippled through Guam, he estimated individual spending was between $750 and $1,000.

Improving the island's image is just one of the projects in the works for the visitors bureau and its 2004 budget of $13.5 million. The bureau also is trying to help establish a cultural institute where tourism employees can learn various practices in cultural arts.

"Within GVB, we've never had any parameters or guidelines on how our culture is shown to visitors," Lamorena said. "With the institute, we provide a venue on how we can convey our culture.''

In October, Joe Ceavey, a Japan-based consultant for Japan Market Intelligence K.K., said his studies have shown Japanese tourists perceive Guam to be lacking in cultural uniqueness.

Cultural training is one aspect of employee training and education, something John Salas of the University of Guam said the island needs.

Salas, associate professor of International Tourism and Pacific Asia Travel Association Micronesia chairman, said in order to market Guam as a unique destination, employees must be motivated to serve visitors.

"And the way you would motivate is to empower employees," Salas said. "Education plays an active part in teaching how to find gainful employment."

Salas said the visitors bureau and the tourism industry must not rest on its laurels if it hopes to attract more visitors.

"We've already seen how fickle the industry can be," Salas said. "We've seen how our primary industry on the island can be affected by a plane crashing into towers thousands of miles away. We must recognize we are a world community and not stick to plans of the past."

For someone in the industry front line such as Felipe, a strong tourism rebound would help ease worries about job security. And Felipe may have reason to worry a bit less these days.

At her workplace, Felipe said, she's been busy the past month, with PIC's hotel occupancy rate at 91 percent as of yesterday.

"More visitors mean more money, for Guam and for me," Felipe said. "I hope it stays busy throughout the whole year."

January 7, 2004

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com


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