Guam's tourism industry plans to reprogram its marketing strategy by prioritizing the Taiwan market, according to former governor Carl Gutierrez, acting head of the Guam Visitors Bureau.
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said she is optimistic that Guam tourism can reopen in summer. “When we say realistic in tourism bouncing in July, we’re not expecting tourism to be the same numbers as we did before the Covid,” she said at Thursday’s press conference.
The industry, she said, has the opportunity to plan ahead and develop a strategy to bring the tourists back. “The business community is just as concerned in making sure we don’t open sooner than what it should be because they don’t' want a repeat of what we’ve just experienced in these last few weeks,” the governor said.
During her daily press conference, Guerrero introduced Gutierrez as acting president of Guam Visitors Bureau, following the surprising retirement of Pilar Lujan. The GVB board has yet to start the recruitment process for Lujan’s replacement.
The former governor will be tasked with preparing Guam’s tourism industry for recovery after the Covid 19 pandemic. “This is a daunting task and I need all the help I can,” said Gutierrez, who also holds the position as the governor’s economic advisor.
“I want to be able to work with the board and staff of GVB and people of the tourist industry to try to figure out exactly some of the strategies that we need to filter into the bigger picture of our economic strategy group. Because it’s going to take at least a couple of months before tourists can start looking at Guam and we don’t even know when we’re going to be up and ready to receive tourists. But we need to be able to gather what we need from the industry and wrap into the big picture we’re providing now.”
Gutierrez also mentioned potential travelers to allow into Guam. He said “Off the top of my head, if we look at what’s going on in Asia visa waiver countries, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, the one that most probably right to pin our marketing there is Taiwan.”
Gutierrez mentioned Taiwan’s low infection rate and that GVB is looking at Taiwan closely as one of the first wave of tourists to invite back.
The governor also discussed Guam’s third phase of testing. “In order for us to feel very comfortable that we can again lift some restrictions as we move forward, it’s a flowing kind and evolving kind of process,” she said. “So, we will lift restrictions and we will continue testing. We're going to have more expanded testing again out into the community.”
Leon Guerrero went on to mention that the government has already tested all the senior home centers and senior housings, Guma Trankilidat, and all the Hemlani apartments. “We’re also going to be testing the healthcare workers. We're also going to be testing the construction residence, where our construction workers live,” she said.
“We're also going to go back into the villages and expand our testing. We need to do that, because we need to make sure we're having a more accurate picture of community spread. So far, within the last three days I think, we tested about 100 and some individuals. And as a result of that we only, I think, got one positive. So, that’s comforting. That's a really good sign.”
Leon Guerrero also discussed the lifted restrictions that took place on Mother’s Day. “We’ll also monitor the mobility of our people—are they staying home, are they out there more often? Are their activities increasing?” she said. “The best picture that I would like is increased mobility and contained coronavirus cases. That would tell us that even with the increased mobility, we are still containing the coronavirus.”
The governor advised the public to stay cautious despite the reopening of some nonessential businesses. "As we open up, we are out there risking more. We want to make sure the mitigations and restrictions we put in place are working," she said.
“As we lift them, we want to make sure that it is working and hopefully I would say in a month that I would like to be able to say we opened our island up and we have started with some normalcy. We would look at quarantining of people coming on island and our tourism. That’s our biggest challenge,” she added.
Although she warns of a second wave of Covid-19, the governor tries to be optimistic. “We are healing now. I feel, with the virus,” Leon Guerrero said. “But as I’ve always said in the past, we need to look at our people’s health and then we have to look at our economic health. Now we’re focusing and trying to balance both sides of the equation for a good livelihood in our island.”
Leon Guerrero also addressed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s HEROES Act, from which Guam could get $2.6 billion. “We’re expecting about $1.3 billion in federal aid. We've received and distributed out about $559,000,” Leon Guerrero countered. “There are a lot of big wishes there. It’s expected to be passed by the House of Representative with Democratic leadership, as you know Democrats are much more generous to the community.”
The governor said the provision that mandates the federal government to pay for EITC will now be an ongoing situation.
“There's also more monies there for economic recovery impact stimulus. They want to give more out to the community. There also is extending the duration of the federal pandemic unemployment benefits. That's the $600 a week. They're looking to extending that until January,” the governor said.
Leon Guerrero said state governors are hopeful the HEROES Act will pass. “It's a good infusion and great big help for the economy, not just in the United States, but in the territories. If you can realize and acknowledge that all this money the federal government is giving to us is going to be pumped right into the economy,” she said.
“As we work hard again under the leadership of Gov. Gutierrez to build back our tourism and diversify the economy, this is a good thing to have. It'll be money in the economy people will be using to go to restaurants, have dinner, buy groceries. All those services that brings just back the ability of the economy to revive and be stimulated. That's the plan with all this infusion of money. It's to give it right back into the economy.”
Another raised at the conference was the extension of hotels for quarantine facilities. “We’ve been working with GSA through homeland security and we’re putting out a request for interest, because the goal here is to continue on these quarantine facilities,” she said. “We still need to have the quarantine facilities. We want to extend it beyond the May 18 expiration date.”
The governor said that current facilities may put out a request for interest, as well as other facilities.
During the conference, Leon Guerrero was also asked to reply to Dr. Hoa Nguyen’s request to have returning travelers quarantine at home instead of at hotels, which he said isn’t sustainable.
“The current program is sustainable. Secondly the medical group did meet and they’re coming up with some recommendations,” the governor said. “Maybe changing and altering some of the quarantine protocols—that have not been approved. I just got the proposal last night and I was reading through that. We have to get the input of Public Health because they are the experts and they have to make the recommendations. We have to feel comfortable if we do alter the quarantine, we’re also protecting the people of Guam. That's going to be the main driver for these decisions.”
Another issue discussed during the press conference was the Safe Haven quarantine facilities for the island’s homeless. Because Paseo didn’t meet the requirements for Safe Haven, Leon Guerrero said plans to help the island’s homeless will be explored.
“There is request of proposal for sites that we’ve put out there. We're looking to harden the Safe Haven. There is a concern that we just give a temporary situation, but we give a much more permanent,” she said. “The plan is to look at what we can get for a harden structure and look at more a permanent. In terms of the more permanent Safe Haven for our homeless, we want to do more than just sheltering them. We want to also make sure we try to train them, we try to work with them so they can go back into the community so they can be self-sufficient, have a job, make an income of themselves.”