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Can Guam Expect a Kim Jong Un Effect?

international travel expo guam exhibition
Here I am with entertainers from Guam helping to spell out "G -U -A - M"  at the 31st International Travel Expo in June 2017 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wanchai on Hong Kong Island.

Travel + Tourism

More than 130,000 tourists visited Guam in July 2017, breaking a 20 year record as visitors from Korea and Japan continued to flock to the tropical paradise. Can the island expect a Kim Jong Un effect?

Despite the saber-rattling between North Korea and the United States, Korean and Japanese tourists - who account for the overwhelming majority of visitors to Guam - continue to flock to the island in droves.

According to the Guam Visitors Bureau, more than 130,000 foreign nationals visited the island in July 2017, breaking a 20-yer record.

Most of the arrivals were from Asia. The island is especially popular with Korean and Japanese tourists, and proximity has a lot to do with that. The island is relatively close to both countries.

There are seven flights a day from Seoul to Guam, and the flight time is 4 hours and 30 minutes. There are at least six flights a day from Tokyo to Guam, and the flight time is 3 hours and 45 minutes.

Map-guamGuam 101

Located in the Western Pacific, Guam is a U.S. island territory in Micronesia, and the people born there have full U.S. citizenship. 

Which means returning visitors can boast that they've "been to the United States" without having to make that lengthy (and costly) trip across the Pacific Ocean!

Guam has many attractions for tourists:  tropical beaches, beautiful topography, Chamorro villages, and ancient latte-stone pillars.

In terms of tourism infrastructure, Guam has everything from simple bed and breakfasts to extravagant five star hotels and resorts.

There are fine-dining restaurants, fabulous spas, and fascinating night markets. Activities run from water sports to hiking to golf.

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Colonized by the Spanish, there are some interesting remnants of the island's colonial past such as Fort Nuestra Señora de la Soledad (pictured above), which sits atop a bluff in Umatac

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Guam was the site of two major battles in World War II. In 1941, the First Battle of Guam resulted in America's loss of the island to the Japanese. The United States regained control over the island in the Second Battle of Guam in 1944.

The War in the Pacific National Historical Park (pictured above)is an important tourist attraction on the island. Among its highlights is a former battlefield on the shores of Asan Beach

The Economy

Valued at US$2 billion a year, defense spending accounts for 40% of the Guamanian economy. There a two large US military bases on the island.

Tourism accounts for US$1.6 billion year, making it the island's second most important industry.

Tourism official have voiced concern that the North Korean threat could cause jittery tourists to give the island a wide berth.

The island's self-elected governor, Eddie Baza Calvo, has also expressed concerns.  At a press conference held earlier this week, he said that even events having nothing to do with the island - such as the Gulf War in 1991 and the SARS epidemic in 1997 - have had an impact on the island's "fragile" tourism industry.

News Coverage

As I was watching the news on television a few nights ago, there was a segment on the tense situation in Guam. There was the image of a journalist being interviewed on a white sand beach with azure skies overhead and tourists frolicking on banana boats in the distance.

It made me think, "Maybe I should check this place out!" And I couldn't help but wonder if the island wouldn't experience a "Kim Jong Um Effect" as a result of all the publicty.

Following the devastating tsunami in 2004, many pundits were predicting the death of Phuket's tourism industry. But the dropoff in tourism was short lived.

The massive news coverage resulting from the horrific event put Phuket on the international radar screen, and one of the most lasting effects was that the world learned how to pronounce Phuket correctly (with a "P" rather than an "F").

U.S. President Donald Trump is never short of words, and in a telephone call to Guam's governor, he reassured him that the media attention would result in a tenfold increase in tourism.

That seems a bit far-fetched, but that's Donald Trump for you. "Hyperbole" is his middle name.

And if such a massive increase in tourism did materialize, the island might well sink back into the sea under the weight of the hotels and resorts that would have to be built to accommodate them.

But still ...

Good PR?

There is something to be said for that old marketing adage that "there is no such thing as bad PR".

Despite a strongly worded warning against travel to North Korea by the U.S. State Department, I read a few days ago that travel to the Hermit Kingdom has actually increased.

Not from the United States, perhaps, but from other countries. Many Chinese travelers - who account for 95% of visitors to North Korea - remain undaunted, and they are continuing to visit the country.

Their reasons for visiting North Korea run from convenience to cost - many people living near the border make inexpensive day-trips cross the Yalu River. Then there is nostalgia. North Korea reminds many Chinese people of their own not-so-distant past.

And some Chinese travelers are curious. They want to see North Korea before it changes, as it inevitably will.

But still, the numbers of Chinese tourists visiting North Korea remain relatively small. If South Korea is the second most popular travel destination for Chinese tourists (Thailand is number one), North Korea doesn't even make the top 20 list.

Sea of Fire

Are tensions between the United States and North Korea easing? After being briefed on plans to attack Guam, Kim Jong Un has backed off a bit, saying that he would monitor the "stupid American behaviour for a bit longer".

Which shouldn't come as a surprise to the South Korean tourists that are continuing to flock the  island.

Kim has been threatening to turn the South Korean capital of Seoul into a "sea of fire" for years.

Where to Stay

There are numerous hotels, resorts, and bed-and-breakfasts at all price points.

Dusit Thani Guam Resort - with 419 hotel rooms and suites and six food and beverage outlets, this hotel has  a free-form outdoor swimming pool, a full service spa, and complete facilities for meetings, weddings, and other kinds of events. It is located on Tumon Beach in the heart of the island’s tourism district.

Click on the hotel's website for more information, room rates, and special offers:

Dusit Thani Guam Resort>>

 

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