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Vacationers still flocking to Guam, undeterred by North Korea missile threat

AP

Even though the U.S. territory of Guam has been at the center of North Korean and U.S. threats during the past week, tourists haven’t been deterred from visiting the tropical island in the Pacific.

Chiho Tsuchiya of Japan heard the news, but she decided to come anyway with her husband and two children. “I feel Japan and Korea also can get danger from North Korea, so staying home is the same,” said the 40-year-old.

Won Hyung-jin, an official from Modetour, a large South Korean travel agency, said several concerned customers had telephoned, but none were so worried that they canceled their trips.

“It seems North Korea racks up tension once or twice every year, and travelers have become insensitive about it,” Won said. His company has sent about 5,000 travelers to Guam each month this year, mostly on package tours.

The U.S. territory has a population of 160,000, but it attracted 1.5 million visitors last year. One-third of Guam’s jobs are in the tourism industry.

Guam is a key outpost for the U.S. military, which uses it as a base for bombers and submarines.

The island’s sandy beaches and aquamarine waters also make it a popular getaway for travelers from Japan and South Korea. Guam is only about three hours by plane from major cities in both countries.

The number of South Korean travelers in particular has been growing lately because five low-cost airlines started flying to Guam from South Korea, said Antonio Muna, the vice president of Guam Visitors Bureau. This helped boost arrival figures to a 20-year-high in July, Muna said.

The threats came in a week in which long-standing tensions between the countries risked abruptly boiling over. New United Nations sanctions condemning the North’s rapidly developing nuclear program drew fresh ire and threats from Pyongyang. And U.S. President Donald Trump responded by vowing to rain down “fire and fury” if challenged. The North then threatened to lob missiles toward Guam.

Kenji Kikuchi, 39, arrived from Japan last week and planned to leave Tuesday as scheduled. He was aware of the threat from reading the local newspaper and was a little worried. But he said North Korea’s missiles would fall into the ocean, not on Guam. His 8-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter weren’t concerned.

“They talk about it, but they don’t care about it. They like the sea and the pool,” he said.

Staff at the visitors bureau has heard reports of cancellations, but Muna said it doesn’t yet have any concrete figures on how many people did not travel to the island. Officials are still expecting a strong August, Muna said.

“Japan and Korea make over 90 percent of our arrivals. And they’re much closer to North Korea than Guam is,” Muna said.

The agency has been relaying assurances from the governor and defense officials that Guam is protected and safe, he said.

Trump told Eddie Calvo, Guam’s Republican governor, the global attention will send more tourists to the island.

“You’re going to go up like tenfold with the expenditure of no money,” he told Calvo in a telephone conversation Calvo posted Sunday on Facebook. Trump said he’d been watching scenes of Guam on the news, and “it just looks like a beautiful place.”

Calvo replied, “It’s paradise.”

“We’ve got 95 percent occupancy and after all this stuff calms down, we’re going to have 110 percent occupancy,” Calvo said.