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By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, August 19) – Guam’s tourism industry has returned to visitor arrivals exceeding a million a year.

The milestone was reached on August 17, when the number of visitors this fiscal year reached 1,003,945 -- with more than a month left of fiscal 2004.

In the previous fiscal year, Guam saw visitor arrivals drop below a million, to 903,000, as the island reeled from Supertyphoon Pongsona and travel jitters over severe acute respiratory syndrome and the war in Iraq. Japan’s economic woes last year also rippled through the island’s visitor industry.

By the end of this calendar year in December, Guam will have welcomed about 1.15 million visitors, which is more than the Guam Visitors Bureau’s initial target of 1.1 million, said Guam Visitors Bureau General Manager Tony Lamorena.

That means Guam will have regained more than 240,000 visitors in a year’s time, possibly translating into as many as 11,000-plus jobs based on a previous GVB estimate that one local job is created for every 21 tourists.

Along with tourism’s rebound making cash registers busier at tourism establishments, some at the front line of the industry are feeling the psychological boost of the recovery.

Kotwal Singh, executive chef for Guam and Saipan Hard Rock Café, said tourism’s rebound is creating a lot of jobs and is making people more secure about their jobs.

Investors, too, will be able to pay their bills and recoup some of their investments, he said.

At Hard Rock Cafe, which serves a lot of Japanese visitors, Singh said business has been good.

Although he cannot talk about specific sales or customer numbers, Singh said: "We see a big improvement. Very, very, very positive numbers, especially with our brand."

And the Japanese visitors who go to Hard Rock spend well, he said.

They eat good steak and buy souvenirs, Singh said.

Japanese consumer confidence plays a huge part in the Guam visitor industry's recovery from a slump that had prompted layoffs and laid-off workers to leave the island for places such as Las Vegas.

Lamorena said the Japanese economy is rebounding, giving more Japanese the confidence to spend and travel.

This year through December, about 13.5 million Japanese will have traveled to overseas destinations, Lamorena said, and next year that number will rise to about 16 million.

Next year, Guam expects its overall visitor arrivals to increase to 1.3 million, and at least a million of those tourists will be from Japan, Lamorena said.

"This equates to more money for our island, more jobs, more opportunities and greater economic growth," Governor Felix Camacho said of tourism's recovery.

"As we promote economic growth, our government must also sustain such growth by maintaining a level of fiscal responsibility that spurs even greater momentum."

On tourism's rebound, the GVB general manager also gives some credit to the visitors bureau's shift in marketing strategy. Under Lamorena, the visitors bureau shifted from luring tourists with $20 spending coupons to an "imaging campaign."

With the imaging campaign, the visitors bureau spent money displaying images of the different ways tourists can relax at Guam resorts and frolic in the ocean.

"The brand now is back to nature -- the natural beauty of the island," Lamorena said.

The visitors bureau also is helping to enhance tourists' local experience with such activities as weaving demonstrations at hotel lobbies and placing stickers on restaurant menus to identify local food.

Now that Guam has regained its hold on the highly competitive race for international tourists, how can the island keep up the momentum?

For Singh, one way to do that is to keep the quality of "product Guam" as high as possible.

And it takes a lot of people's efforts -- from the immigration officer to the customs inspector to the taxi driver to the hotel and restaurant workers -- to make tourists remember they had a good time on Guam, Singh said.

Providing quality product is one-way Guam can effectively compete rather than in pricing, Singh said. "I don't think Japanese visitors will mind paying a little bit extra as long as we have a good product," he said.

August 21, 2004

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