MANILA – Guam is stepping up its effort to attract more Japanese tourists after they fell from the top spot of visitors who vacation on the Pacific island.
According to the Guam Visitors Bureau, arrivals from Japan fell 16.8 percent in 2017 to 620,547, giving way to South Korea, which gained 25.6 percent to 684,443, a record high for the country.
The U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean, whose main attractions are its beaches and tropical weather, received a total of 1.54 million tourists last year, the highest ever.
Japan, three hours away by plane, dominated Guam’s tourism market for the last five decades. Japanese arrivals reached a peak of 1,113,012 in 1997, accounting for some 80 percent of total tourists in Guam that year.
The bureau’s spokesman, Josh Tyquiengco, said that while it did not track source markets from 1967 up to 1975, “it was safe to assume Japan was the No. 1 market since 1967.”
The number of Japanese tourists topped 1 million in 1996, and hovered around that mark in subsequent years before a declining trend set in after the turn of the century.
Despite a subsequent upturn to nearly 1 million in 2013, it has been gradually falling again.
“There are several factors affecting the decline of Japanese tourists to Guam, including a weak yen versus the U.S. dollar, more competition internationally and domestically for Japanese travelers, fewer air seats that are available between Guam and Japan, and negative effects from North Korea news,” Nathan Denight, the chief of the visitors bureau, said.
The arrival of 109 Japanese tourists via a direct Pan American World Airways flight from Japan to Guam on May 1, 1967, spawned the island’s tourism industry that it is now.
Tourism contributed some $700 million to the island’s gross domestic product in 2016, accounting for 12.1 percent of the total. The industry sustained 21,100 jobs, with associated income of $617 million, representing 34 percent of total employment on the island in 2016.
Published in 2014, the Guam Tourism 2020 Plan, which aims to draw in 2 million visitors in 2020, described tourism as “Guam’s single largest industry, generating $1.4 billion annually and representing 60 percent of Guam’s annual business revenue.”
“The 50th anniversary of the first flight from Japan to Guam is a great reminder for the Japanese people of how important Guam and Japan’s relationship has been during the last half a century, and the importance of continuing to strengthen the bonds of friendship for the next 50 years,” Denight said.
Guam was briefly occupied by Japan during World War II before being retaken by U.S. forces. The island of less than 170,000 people remains a U.S. territory to this day.
Denight said the visitor bureau “is working on its goal for the Japan market to stabilize in 2018 and grow in 2019.”
He added that “all the fundamentals in attracting Japanese travelers are positive.”
The bureau is promoting its new Visit Guam 2018 campaign and is engaging airlines to increase the seating capacity of flights to the island, while the tourism industry is trying to lure more Japanese visitors by offering special deals and promotions tied to the 50th anniversary of the first flight from Japan to Guam.
The upcoming United Airlines Guam Marathon and all-girl idol group AKB48’s Guam fan tour taking place in April are also expected to boost Japanese arrivals.
Denight said Guam’s tourism has overall “been on the rise and is achieving more record years because of growth and diversification” of its market.