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  • Writer's pictureBy Joy Santamarina

We’ve done staycation, now let’s try workation

How Guam can leverage WFH ecosystems

“What’s next?”

“The new normal.”

“We need to reimagine the future.”

“When can we go back to normal?”

“Path to Half. Let’s open up tourism.”

These are just some of the oft-repeated buzzwords that are practically in every conversation these days. There seems to be a quest to define what is happening and make sense of a future that is increasingly different from what it was expected to be. Something so tiny that it can’t be seen by the naked eye has wreaked havoc on humans; and the once-mighty U.S., with all its military and nuclear power, once grappled so hard with it and is only now beginning to take a level of control over it. The trend seems to be getting better these days as more people get vaccinated.

Guam with its heavy reliance on tourism for its economic activity has been severely impacted. The 2020 Guam Economic Report released by the University of Guam in January 2021 estimates that 2020 will show a retraction between 0.7 percent and 18.9 percent, but that it could have retracted as much as 49 percent without federal pandemic assistance.

With an aggressive vaccination program, more than 50 percent of the population are now fully vaccinated. With that, the government of Guam is thinking of new ways to reopen the economy and revive tourism.

A new campaign – called Air V&V (for vaccination and vacation) was launched in May targeting the more than 350,000 American expatriates in Asia who may not have the same access to vaccines as those back home to visit Guam to get their Covid-19 shots. This is similar to the tourism campaigns of some states like Alaska and New York that will soon offer vaccinations at the airport and selected tourist spots, respectively.

“This is about the best thing that could happen to Guam right now, with our proximity — we’re three-and-a-half hours away from Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong. The Philippines, believe it or not, have 350,000 … expats there,” Guam Visitors Bureau president Carl Gutierrez said in a press conference on May 7. “Let’s get that market going, fill up the hotel rooms here, get the restaurants going.”

Vaccine tourism is also being talked about, wherein foreign travelers can visit Guam and get vaccinated while on vacation. This is similar in concept to what some island countries, such as the Maldives, will soon be offering.

The Maldives, with 53 percent of its population already fully vaccinated that includes 90 percent of its tourism frontline workforce, plans to rollout visitor vaccinations as soon as possible. Like Guam, its GDP is highly reliant on the tourism sector at 67 percent. The concept can work if it addresses concerns on longer stays on island, great medical facilities and response times should complications arise, and extremely attractive packages for longer-term stays.

Beyond vaccine tourism, there is another trend that Guam can capitalize on to revive its economy – the Future of Work wherein local migrations and the digital gig/workforce are key components.

In a global survey by Statista, it shows that before the pandemic, only 15 percent worldwide worked from home. Today, about 70 to 75 percent of the workforce is working remotely and 35 percent expect to work remotely on a permanent basis.

Another interesting trend happening is the reverse migration from cities and urban areas to more affordable, less populated areas. While the trend shows that most movements were still within the perimeter or within the state (except for New York and San Francisco which experienced more dramatic urban exodus), Guam can capitalize on these two trends by offering real work from home (WFH) ecosystems. When WFH can actually mean work from anywhere, the future of work can place Guam at a definite advantage.


What does having a WFH ecosystem mean?

1. Attract mid to high-income digital workers. These can be American expats in various countries who can do remote work for longer periods of time. These can be young, digitally-enabled families looking to raise their kids in a much friendlier environment than huge mainland cities. These can be foreigners or executives who are used to living in different environments and are looking for more flexible work hours with good recreational amenities.

2. Create good co-working spaces or remote home packages. These should include good high-speed internet connections, virtual office functions, and cybersecurity packages aside from cozy amenities that will make the work area feel more comfortable. The empty houses or building apartments can be readily converted into these more attractive workspaces. Office and co-working facilities must change from designing for efficiency into designing for resilience and optimal work experience and output.

3. Workation. There is such a thing called as remote work fatigue, zoom fatigue, or digital fatigue. People need to ensure that work-life balance is achieved. What more can they ask for on an island like Guam where a good swim or hike is but a stone’s throw away? In order to address these types of stresses, curated experiences and interactions can be arranged. This can be similar to some of the tourism packages, albeit with a more local feel, perhaps a bit more differentiated and aligned with key market interests.

There are many more ways to enhance the Guam Work from Home (away from home) concept. This may mean more people staying on Guam on a more permanent or semi-permanent basis. All it takes is a bit of diligence in watching the global trends, optimizing what Guam has to offer, and market it aggressively to gain a more viable, long-term “semi- local” tourism industry.

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