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Just handful of cruise visits in past year

By Tiffany Sukola HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Marianas Variety, May 7, 2010) – Recognizing the need to diversify the island’s main economic driver, tourism experts are now looking to pursue new markets in an effort to bring more revenue into the island of Guam.

Reporting nearly 13.4 million travelers in 2009 alone, industry officials are setting their eyes on the cruise ship industry.

"This is an underdeveloped tourism opportunity," said Guam Visitors Bureau (GVB) general manager Gerry Perez during the tourism industry forum yesterday at the Sand Castle. "13 million cruisers were reported last year despite the worldwide recession."

Perez said although Guam was visited by a handful of cruise ships during the past year, GVB wants to eventually turn the island into a permanent port call for cruise ships. In 2009, Guam saw 7,984 visiting cruise ship passengers and Perez said the same amount is expected during this year as well.

According to Perez, the global cruise ship industry sees an annual growth of about 7 percent.

Over the past 30 years, Perez said the industry has remained constant and industry experts estimate the market to continue to grow over the next few years.

Perez said pursuing the cruise ship industry could translate into millions of extra revenues for the island.

"Cruise ships bring with them the premiere leisure traveler," said Perez. "Passengers spend nearly 50 percent more than non-cruisers."

Although the Pacific currently has a slim market share at only 5.6 percent of the global cruise market, Perez said the number is expected to increase as Asian countries rebound from the global recession.

In addition, Perez said the Caribbean market is shrinking as a result of the escalating safety concerns in the area. News of Americans being kidnapped is turning away thousands of potential passengers.

However, Perez said GVB must work on building the necessary infrastructure to handle major port calls as well as work on promoting the island’s unique shore experience.

The eventual goal, he said, is to house three or four small cruise vessels on a permanent basis.

Over the next 18 months, Perez said the agency will work on improving its image as a cultural destination as well as joining a regional cruise association.

Port Authority board chair Monte Mesa said that because Asia is emerging as a big cruise market, Guam has the potential to take advantage of more cruise industry opportunities.

Most of the cruises in the region come from Hong Kong and Australia, said Mesa.

"Guam has the opportunity to be a port of call for Pacific cruises as well as global cruises," said Mesa. "We can develop Guam as a hub and homeport for cruises in Micronesia."

Mesa said Guam is already on the schedule as a port stop for a 2011 worldwide cruise.

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