MILITARY, TOURISM TWIN TOWERS OF GUAM ECONOMY

Commentary

By Joe Murphy

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, May 10) - Is there a conflict between Guam's two major industries? Should we be thinking about this for the future, or can it be resolved by intelligence and good will?

I'm talking, of course, about the military and tourism. Those are the island's only real sources of income -- unless you want to include federal government money as the third "industry."

Both the military and tourism create jobs and provide GovGuam with taxes and income, enough to support a government work force of close to 12,000 people.

I've given this thing a lot of thought, and I do remember the past. At one time, in the 1960s, Guam was considered a military island entirely. At that time, the governor was appointed by the president of the United States. It may seem hard to believe now, but at that time the admiral of COMNAVMAR was the de facto mayor of Guam. What he said went, whether it be water wells, schools or paved roads. The admiral pretty much ruled by custom, and by the fact that if anybody wanted to even arrive on Guam, he had to have Navy clearance first.

Then, several things happened to change the scenario completely.

One was Typhoon Karen in 1962, which truly devastated the island, and the second was the decision of President John F. Kennedy to do away with the security clearance.

Tourism? Hah. There was none to worry about. Why would anybody in their right mind come to Guam, a military base, covered wall-to-wall with troops, ships and B-52s? The military guys, in those days, called Guam "The Rock," and even had one of their clubs named that.

I honestly can't say I blamed the guys at the time. We were in the midst of the Vietnam War. Guam had nothing, or very little. There weren't any hotels. There was nothing in the way of entertainment. There were few bars and nightclubs. If you were a civilian big shot, like me, you got a card to the Top O' the Mar.

Another thing was happening that affected Guam deeply. That was the slow but sure emergence of the Japanese middle class, people who really wanted to travel. That coincided with a decision made by the brains at Pan American Airlines in New York to fly a jetliner from Tokyo to Guam. At the same time some local people, including Ken Jones, Al Ysrael and Earl Kloppenburg, to mention a few, decided to invest in hotels to accommodate the visitors.

It all worked. We were all surprised. I think the military, especially, were shocked. Lots more happened, like the Pacific Route Case, the beginnings of Air Mike and Continental, TWA came in; suddenly Guam became a Pacific destination.

I see no real problems in the co-existence of the military and tourism. Hawaii is in the same boat. They have millions of tourists and still have Pearl Harbor and other military bases.

The military families themselves find themselves spending a couple of years in a travel destination, and for that they are grateful. They see that more than a million people a year pay good money to come to Guam, so they think, "Hey, I get to go there for free!"

They also like the warm weather, the reefs and lagoons, and take advantage of the things that tourism has built up over the years -- the hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, Tumon Bay -- and the island culture.

The Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper printed in Tokyo, may have triggered this column by carrying a great feature on Guam last week. It include front page pictures, as well as two or three inside pages. It said: "Guam offers balmy beauty and a people still grateful for U.S. role in liberation." This great article also said: "There probably is no other place in the world where the U.S. military -- past and present -- is afforded so much respect."

It also quotes a dive expert as saying that Guam is one of the Top 10 dive spots in the world.

Written by Norman Sklarewitz, the Stars and Stripes article said that "income from tourism now accounts for some $2 billion a year -- some 60 percent of the island's entire economy."

I don't think it is quite that high. Still, the future of both of our industries looks bright, and it seems to me that except for actual wartime, the military and tourists can get along just fine. Land problems may develop later, but for now, it looks good.

May 10, 2004

Joe Murphy is a former editor of the Pacific Daily News.

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

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