Updated: Apr 21
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
With calculated optimism, United Airlines will ramp up its service between Guam and Japan in the coming months as the Japanese government slowly eases its Covid-related restrictions.
Sam Shinohara, United’s managing director of Business Development for Asia/Pacific, said the island’s home airline will have nine flights a week between Guam and Japan in May. The frequency will increase to 11 flights a week in June.
“We are still far from where we were pre-pandemic,” Shinohara said. “Even just to Tokyo, we had 21 times a week. So we are a long way from being back to normal.”
While there is pent-up demand for travel, Shinohara said Guam can't be too complacent.
Among the Asian destinations, Korea and Taiwan are Guam’s closest competition for the Japanese market.
Taiwan’s borders remain closed, but Korea has reopened, making it Guam’s only competition at this juncture.
“Guam is ready,” Shinohara said. “But once Japan opens its doors, it doesn’t mean that they are ready only for Guam. They are ready to go anywhere so we need to make sure that we have the ability to differentiate ourselves and convince the Japanese traveling public to come to Guam.”
Toru Takahashi, managing director for Japan and Micronesia sales, said Japan's borders are expected to fully open by summer.
“Right now, I believe people do not have a specific destination in mind, They just want to travel, but Guam has always been a favorite destination for Japanese travelers,” Takahashi said.
As a beach destination, Takahashi said, Hawaii is Guam's competition for the Japanese market. But the island's proximity to Japan gives Guam an edge over Hawaii.
"Guam is easier than Hawaii to make a trip," he said. "It's a three-hour-and-30- minute flight and easy to access from the airport to the hotel."
Japan had been Guam’s major source market for decades until the Covid-19 pandemic brought world travel to a standstill.
While Japan’s borders are not open yet, Shinohara said the Japanese government has a low-key policy that allows unrestricted travel for fully vaccinated individuals.
“It’s not widely publicized, but if you are a Japanese citizen and you are fully vaccinated with three shots and boosted, you can leave Japan and come back without any quarantine,” Shinohara said. “There is a fairly large number of people in Japan who are fully vaccinated that we will try to capture.”
“Most people do not know this. That is why we are trying to get this information out,” Takahashi said.
The Japanese government currently discourages its citizens from embarking on international travels.
Guam’s biggest competition right now is domestic tourism. Okinawa is a very popular destination for leisure travelers, Shinohara said.
“But it’s only a matter of time before they ease some of their restrictions,” Shinohara said. “Every month they relax some of their restrictions and reduce the quarantine level for people entering the country.”
United hopes to see some spikes in bookings toward the middle or later part of summer, Shinohara said.
“In terms of normal, I am not exactly sure what it looks like. We are trying to be creative with the offerings that we have,” Shinohara said. “We are the only one serving Japan now. I am not sure what other carriers are going to do in terms on service capacity.”