I believe the successful launch of the Local Employers Assistance Program (LEAP) has been a crucial step in the effort to save hundreds of businesses and dozens, if not more, from collapsing.
The pandemic's toll on our tourism industry and the businesses that support it has been staggering. I strongly encourage the governor and the legislature to be prepared to provide additional funding to the LEAP program.
It may be another full year or more from now before Guam's tourism industry returns to anything like its pre-pandemic arrival numbers. If LEAP or any similar program is not sustained, future tourist arrivals will likely return to a tourism experience hollowed out and incapable of providing guests a worthwhile visit.
The industry now faces multiple dilemmas.
We need to accept the fact that this recovery is going to take longer than any of us want. Tourists will return likely in slow increments. So many tourist attractions will remain closed and many businesses, if still alive, will be operating at a limited capacity as tourists arrive this year. The visitors who arrive throughout most of 2022 will likely have a less than fulfilling and quality experience.
Island residents who visited T Galleria for holiday shopping experienced a significantly scaled-back T Galleria. While I was happy T Galleria was open for the holidays, I could only think about how disappointed most tourists would be.
Think about it for a minute, if businesses with the substantial resources of DFS have had to scale back so dramatically, consider the challenge of the average local business.
It is also important to note over the last two years, hundreds or maybe thousands of key tourism employees, managers and talent had no choice but to relocate off-island to find gainful employment. It will take a considerable amount of time to replace and rehire these key personnel.
The longer businesses stay closed or run at a reduced capacity the greater the likelihood they can't or don't survive.
If the government doesn't provide enough funding, we may experience sectors of the industry collapsing in such significant ways that our tourism industry may never fully recover.
The only way to avoid this is for the governor to reprogram some of the American Rescue Plan funds she has planned for a new hospital and reallocate it to the LEAP. I don't suggest this lightly or flippantly as I believe it is necessary.
Additionally, it is of utmost importance that the governor communicates to all LEAP applicants and businesses in our tourism industry and reassures them that she is committed to doing all she can to support them. I suggest a town hall-style meeting for the governor to meet with all relevant tourism businesses and stakeholders and inspire confidence in her efforts to recover and rebound Guam's economy.
The last six months have brought an increased sense of anxiety and uncertainty to our recovery. First the delta variant and now the omicron variant. Both variants delayed the South Korean tourist market from a faster rebound.
The availability of the LEAP is a huge relief to many and a lifesaver to some. But it will likely not be sufficient with the $50 million allocated. I hope the governor will consider being proactive and communicate to the businesses that she stands ready to fund the program as is necessary to aid in the survival of our industry.
Jesse A. Lujan is a former senator who served in the 27th, 28th & 29th Guam Legislatures. Send feedback to email@example.com.