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By Gaynor-Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Dec. 27) – Guam will end 2005 with about 1.2 million tourists, thanks in part to more Japanese visitors and renewed interest among South Koreans to travel to the island.

And the coming year will be a turning point for the island tourism industry, now that it's seeing visitor numbers solidify.

In the new year, Guam will be in a better position to invite better spenders with such ongoing projects as the luxury upgrades at the Hilton Guam Resort & Spa and the villa-type amenities being developed at the Guam Hotel Okura, said David Tydingco, president of the Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association and chairman of the Guam Visitors Bureau board.

"Now, it's not just visitor numbers," Tydingco said.

Tydingco said the industry's push over the next two to three years will be for "higher-yielding" tourists -- and developing more attractions and facilities toward that market.

Although the 1.2 million estimated visitor arrivals this year will be a little bit short of the 1.25 million goal, the total would be more than 50,000 additional tourists compared to last year.

Japan arrivals were up 11 percent during the first 11 months of the year; South Korean arrivals improved 24 percent, according to the GVB statistics.

This year's projected 1,210,147 total number of tourists boosts job-generating Guam businesses that cater to such visitor activities as dining, buying souvenirs, golfing, shopping and being pampered in spas.

A Japanese tourist spends $675 on average on Guam, according to a survey this year for the visitors bureau, so this year's visitor count could be calculated into $816 million worth of business activity on Guam. JCB cardholders are higher spenders, buying $1,600, on average, worth of goods and services during their visits, according to the credit card company.

This coming year, the island will have about 300 new rooms to offer, with the Fiesta Resort Guam's expected grand opening. Known as the Guam Dai-Ichi hotel before its ownership change and renovation, Fiesta Resort recently held a soft opening, Tydingco said.

Guam's improved tourist numbers gained in part from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands' loss of tourists as a result of Japan Airlines' pullout from Saipan.

"We are capturing over 60 to 70 percent of the Japan arrivals that typically would go to the CNMI, and so we are seeing improved numbers coming our way," Tydingco said.

What also helped Guam was a boom in visitor arrivals from North America to Hawaii, which left fewer rooms for Japanese tourists, Tydingco said.

This holiday season, which for the Japanese tourists peaks between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3, Guam and Saipan are expected to collectively welcome about 52,000 visitors from Japan, up 2 percent from last year's figure for the same period, according to a report by Japanese travel wholesale giant JTB.

December 27, 2005

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