TOURIST HANDBILLERS RAISE EYEBROWS ON GUAM

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By Ryota Dei

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Feb. 28) - "Hisashiburi, aniki," a handbiller spoke in Japanese for "Long time no see, big brother," to a group of passing Japanese young men.

It was perhaps the hundredth group of Japanese tourists the male handbiller had tried to hand fliers to in front of TGI Friday's in Tumon on a recent Friday night.

With his broken Japanese, the handbiller tried to explain to the six tourists, standing beside the crosswalk, that he would take them to a karaoke bar or massage parlor if they called him at the cellular phone number printed on the flier he was handing out.

"Bottakuri ja naikara," he repeated in Japanese for "I will never rip you off" several times, trying his hardest to succeed after numerous attempts at handing out the fliers.

The handbilling scene has become a part of Tumon's nightlife, and has caused disgust for some tourists who are turned off by the explicit content of some of the fliers.

Tumon businesses, tourism officials and senators also are concerned about the aggressive handbilling practices that take place in the island's tourism district.

At stake is the image of the island's visitor industry, which relies on new and repeat visitors to keep the money flowing to thousands of industry workers, businesses and the local government.

To deal with the problem, then-Senator John M. Quinata, D-Talofofo, introduced a bill in June 2003 that would set regulations to control handbilling in Tumon. Efforts to pass the bill were unsuccessful.

The lawmakers who were inaugurated in January have another chance at passing legislation that would regulate handbilling with Bill 32, introduced by Senator Adolpho Palacios, D-Ordot.

The bill states that handbilling activities conducted at intersections, crosswalks, bus stops and driveways interrupt the flow of pedestrian and vehicle traffic, resulting in a hazardous situation by diverting pedestrians and motorists' attention.

The proposed Handbilling Act was referred on Jan. 21 to the legislative Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety, which is chaired by Sen. Ray Tenorio, R-Yigo.

If you resemble a Japanese tourist, you will be able to collect more than 10 fliers just by walking the northern area of San Vitores Road for 10 minutes or so. If you look like a resident, they won't hand you a flier. And if they do give you one by mistake, they will try to take the flier back.

In northern Tumon on a recent weekend night, at least five handbillers chased the same tourists nearly simultaneously.

Many Japanese tourists just raise their hands slightly or use other gestures to signal they're not interested.

"I really hate those (fliers). I don't want my parents or children to see them, either," Yuki Minemoto, 24, said. "We have a lot of these in Japan, too, but handbillers here keep chasing us until we accept the fliers."

Another Japanese tourist, Masumi Tajima, 54, also was annoyed by the persistent handbilling activities in the area.

"I don't need those, but I feel like those people don't stop bothering me until I take the flier," she said. "There is nowhere to throw these away, so I have to take them back to the hotel."

One tourist had a slightly different perspective of the handbilling activities on the street.

"I don't think it's a bad thing promoting businesses on the street," Junji Takagi, 51, said. "It's kind of annoying, but they are just doing their jobs."

Not only has handbilling activities annoyed a number of tourists, but it has also impeded other businesses' activities around the area and raised concern over security issues.

Greg San Agustin, Guam Plaza Hotel security officer, said he conducts patrols every hour to check if handbillers are working within the hotel property.

"If we catch them, we will call GPD," San Agustin said, giving a disgusted look at handbillers in front of the hotel. "These guys scare off our tourists. I think regulating these activities is good for the tourism industry around here."

Alice Chen Huan, owner of Alice Massage in Tumon, said handbilling activities in front of her massage establishment disrupt her business by giving tourists a misleading image of her store.

"I have my shop, and pay tax and utilities. When people pass out fliers of (illegitimate) massage parlors in front of my store, tourists will think my store is that kind of place, too, you know?" she said. "I wish the government would ban the handbilling activities. It's really bothering my business."

Reacting to these concerns and complaints from tourists, the Guam Visitors Bureau is now pushing for Bill 32 to become law.

The bill notes how handbillers obstruct the paths of pedestrians by thrusting handbills in their faces, or create hazardous situations by causing pedestrians to step onto busy streets or collide with other pedestrians to avoid handbillers.

Regulating handbilling, however, could prompt questions about whether it violates one's right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

While acknowledging that people have the right to freedom of speech, GVB General Manager Tony Lamorena emphasized that streets are public property where the safety of pedestrians must be prioritized over business activities.

When the issue was discussed in the late 1980s in Hawai´i, the state's Department of Corporation Counsel said in a legal opinion that to avoid First Amendment challenges, it's imperative that handbilling regulations be based on "traffic safety standards, such as distances from the curb, fire hydrants, bus stops, corners, etc."

Bill 32 intends to restrict handbilling activities to specific areas, including:

Lamorena said the ideal situation would be to establish dispensing racks in which businesses leave government-approved fliers for tourists to take at will.

He also raised concerns over handbills with sexually explicit content. Handbills distributed in the area include those for legitimate therapeutic massage as well as fliers that are sexually suggestive.

Many handbills for massage parlors are written in Japanese, some with drawings of women giving massages, a list of services and prices, and a phone number to call. There are also fliers for massage parlors with drawings of naked women.

The Pacific Daily News dialed the number for one flier and spoke in English, but the person on the other end of the line hung up right away.

When another call was made in Japanese, the person who answered asked at which hotel the caller was staying at, what the hotel room number is, and what time the caller wanted to be picked up in front of the hotel.

Fliers with sexually explicit content have undermined the image of Guam as a safe tourist destination the entire island has been trying to promote, Lamorena said.

Those fliers are also a turnoff for tourists, especially family tourists with young children.

"It's not a good environment for children. I don't want businesses to go down, but the government should check and regulate the contents of these fliers," Yukari Nomoto, 32, said.

Another tourist pointed out the lack of trashcans in the area where people can throw away unwanted fliers.

"I really want the government to regulate this. I know it's bad, but I sometimes litter those while waiting for a stoplight because I don't want to bring those disgusting fliers back to a hotel," Megumi Senriuchi, 22, said.

Such an environment, Senriuchi said, "makes the town dirty."

March 1, 2005

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

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