HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — Airline bookings have gone up while more Guam tourism businesses, such as Fish Eye Marine Park, are reopening, buoyed by eased travel restrictions and improved Covid-19 vaccination in Korea.
Korean Air's bookings for Guam in November and December have already exceeded 65% and are expected to continue rising, according to Joo-ho Byeon, sales management group leader for Korean Air.
"Load factor, or actual boarding, could be more than 70% so we're really optimistic," Byeon told The Guam Daily Post during the Guam Visitors Bureau's Guam Again Trade Show at Sheraton Laguna Guam Resort on Wednesday.
Byeon is part of a 48-member delegation of Korean airline, travel and tour groups and media representatives, as well as media influencers, who GVB is hosting this week.
They are here for a familiarization tour to promote travel to Guam among Koreans, the island's main source market for arrivals, overtaking Japan for the spot in recent years.
The familiarization tour is the first of its kind since March 2020, when Guam went through its first pandemic lockdown.
As part of the tour, the trade show allowed the Korean travel agents, airline representatives and media to directly link up with 23 of Guam's tourism-related vendors.
Among them were cultural attractions, shopping centers, marine sports operators, magic shows, hotels, car rental agencies, aviation tours, phone companies and the University of Guam, which promoted its short-term English Adventure Program for foreign students.
Besides the trade show, the Korean group has also been able to visit popular attractions and venues.
"(The trade show) is very important because we are all trying to restart the tourism industry and as we’ve been saying for a long time, Korea is a low-hanging fruit based on the developments there on the vaccination level ... and the flexibility and putting into service extra air seats. And so we’re very encouraged by that," said GVB Vice President Gerry Perez.
The trade show, he said, is "almost like the launching pad...of reinvigorating our arrivals."
"We're ready to welcome whatever we can get now as we gradually scale up. Then of course, the value chain would also scale up," he said.
Perez said "more and more airlines are scheduling limited service at this time," and more tourism-related businesses are reopening.
Fish Eye Marine Park's underwater observatory, the only one of its kind in Micronesia, will reopen Nov. 20 — some 20 months since closing in March 2020, according to Hideaki Osanai, sales and customer service manager for the marine park.
Osanai said he's looking forward to welcoming back local residents, military personnel and their families, and tourists from Korea and other Asian countries and other places.
Fish Eye's day tours will resume Dec. 4, he said. The dinner show's resumption will be announced at a later date, the official said.
Jungle cruise, parasailing
Valley of the Latte Adventure Park has also started seeing Korean tourists on their jungle river cruise and cultural activities, according to KangDon Lee, the Korean director for the park.
Since last year, most of the park's visitors have been military and local residents, he said.
Katsuhito Yamane, general manager for Guam Ocean Park and Apra Dive & Marine Sports, said they just recently resumed most of their operations, with mostly local residents and military personnel as customers.
But in the past few weeks, he said, they have also started to see Korean customers once again.
Parasailing, he said, continues to be the most sought after activity among water activities. Guam is also a destination for diving and snorkeling.
At a meeting in October, GVB officials said airline seats from Korea could reach 432,261 in fiscal 2022, with a 50% conservative load factor or about 217,932 passengers.
Guam's fiscal 2021 arrivals reached only 60,343, a deep plunge from the record-breaking pre-pandemic arrivals of 1.6 million in fiscal 2019.
With more pandemic restrictions lifted as the number of new cases drop, arrival numbers will start picking up, GVB officials said.
According to Byeon, of Korean Air, the increase in airline bookings to Guam could be attributed to the eased travel requirements in Guam and Korea for fully vaccinated Korean travelers.
The Korean Air executive said in the hotel where he's been staying, he saw an increased number of Korean couples in just the past few days.
GVB Board Chairman Milton Morinaga, during the trade show's opening ceremonies, said Guam businesses are rebuilding their workforce
and getting ready to reopen.
"We want you to know that we are committed to the health and safety of our residents and visitors alike," he said. "Our local industry partners are excited to meet you. We are thrilled to be able to see you walk on our shores and look forward to the day we can gather to celebrate, face to face. We wish you a pleasant stay on Guam and look forward to your support in promoting Guam in Korea."
Perez told the trade show participants that while the pandemic has put many businesses at a standstill, it has also given some the opportunity to renovate their properties, restructure their systems and make some long-awaited improvements.
"It isn’t business as usual for us in Guam anymore because they have embraced this new paradigm, this newfound normal of living with Covid and will push forward with other improvements as we invite more visitors to enjoy the beauty and attractions of Guam," he said.
In Kook Kim, head of mission of the Consulate of the Republic of Korea in Guam, also welcomed the delegation from Korea and shared his own experience of getting to enjoy and explore Guam's "breathtaking, natural beauty."
But while more tourism-related businesses have reopened or are soon reopening, others are still on a wait-and-see, Perez said.
"They have different thresholds of financial viability. Some of them may operate limited hours, some of them may just wait until it scales up more. But for the most part, we’re encouraging them to become open," he said.
The governor and the Legislature pledged a grant of up to $50 million for pandemic-hit businesses such as local tourist attractions that were left out of previous federal pandemic grants.