HAGATNA, GUAM – The government of Guam is desperate to keep Japanese coming to the island despite last week’s attack that left three tourists dead and 11 people wounded.
“It goes without saying,” Antonio Muna of the Guam Visitors Bureau said when asked if the U.S. territory, which relies heavily on tourism, remains hopeful about attracting Japanese tourists.
For many years, Japan has been Guam’s No. 1 tourism market, outnumbering the arrivals from all other countries.
In 2012, nearly 929,000 visitors came from Japan, 71 percent of the annual total and a 12.7 percent increase from the year before, records at Muna’s office show.
Arrivals from South Korea totaled nearly 183,000, while the numbers were 51,321 from the United States and 49,144 from Taiwan.
A study on the economic impact of tourism on Guam released last year showed Japanese have led the arrivals trend since 2005, and Muna said he believes Japanese tourists have made up the majority of arrivals for years.
The report said tourism sales were worth $1.4 billion in 2010 and accounted for 14,000 jobs. Tourism generated gross domestic product worth $915 million, 20.4 percent of the island’s economy.
A survey conducted on Japanese tourists leaving Guam after a vacation last November showed each person spent an average of close to $1,400 (about ¥130,000) during their visit.
Muna said the bureau’s research team is now conducting an assessment of the impact of the Feb. 12 attack on the tourism industry. Last week their focus was to assist the victims and their families.
The Japanese government has not issued any travel advisory about Guam and local officials continue to assure foreign visitors the island is safe, calling the Feb. 12 incident an aberration.
In a statement Friday, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said two officials were sent to Guam to help coordinate with local officials for the safety of Japanese nationals.
“Ensuring the safety of Japanese nationals abroad is an important mission of the government,” Kishida said.
Guam officials have ruled out speculation the attack was targeted specifically against Japanese.
Tetsuya Kaneko, a 42-year-old tourist from Tokyo, said that while he was wary after learning of the incident, he continued his four-day vacation with his wife and two children, saying they only needed to be careful.
In an interview near the crime scene, Kaneko and his wife said they were saddened by the incident and on their arrival last Sunday went to the site and offered prayers for the victims.
Kaneko said he will consider returning to Guam, a place he has always thought of as safe, but will always exercise caution.
Meanwhile, a Japanese man working for a tour bus company said he was worried about a drop in Japanese tourists.
The man, who didn’t want his name used, said school trips from Japan, particularly for high school students, have been increasing.
The November survey of departing Japanese tourists showed safety is a main concern when they travel, followed by food, terrorism and costs.
In a statement immediately after the attack, Guam Visitors Bureau chief Mark Baldyga said the government is dedicating its “substantial resources to ensuring that Guam remains a warm, friendly and completely safe holiday destination.”
He said police patrols have been increased in the key tourist area of Tumon and an upgraded security webcam system is being installed.
“This tragic incident was the result of a lone individual and represents the worst tragedy that this island has seen in many decades,” Baldyga said.
The 21-year-old suspect allegedly drove his car into and then stabbed tourists and a local woman, resulting in the deaths of three people and injuries to 11 others.
The suspect, Chad Ryan De Soto, is being held against $3 million cash bail on charges of murder, attempted murder, assault and possession of a deadly weapon.
Third victim returned
The body of the third Japanese who died in last week’s rampage on Guam arrived Monday afternoon at Narita International Airport, accompanied by the victim’s seriously wounded wife.
The U.S. plane carrying the body of Hitoshi Yokota, 51, arrived at an aircraft parking area at around 3:25 p.m., where officials of the airline lined up and bowed to his coffin.
Yokota was confirmed dead two days after being hit by a car allegedly driven by Chad Ryan De Soto, 21, in the Tumon tourist district on Feb. 12, according to Guam Memorial Hospital.
Yokota’s 51-year-old wife, Michiko, was also hit by the car but recovered after treatment in the local hospital’s intensive care unit.
The bodies of the other two fatalities — Kazuko Uehara, 81, and her 28-year-old granddaughter, Rie Sugiyama — arrived in Japan on Friday. They were fatally stabbed in the incident.