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Hagatna, Guam

Is the Guam Visitors Bureau’s goal to raise tourist arrivals from 1.3 million to 2 million in a year, starting in 2020, too many, and too soon?

The question was raised at the island sustainability conference hosted by the University of Guam last week, and a local businessman hopes to get the community discussions on the topic to continue, the Pacific Daily News reported.

Sonny Ada, former Guam Visitors Bureau chairman and president of Ada’s Trust, is advocating for the continued discussion on the topic because he said it impacts the quality of life of Guam residents.

With GVB’s goal, Guam’s tourist volume would increase by about 50 percent in just five years, Ada said. If each additional visitor uses just one disposable cup, that means an additional 700,000 cups ending up in the landfill in a year, he said.

Ada said raising the question isn’t meant to be critical of the plan; it’s aimed to help stir discussions about whether there’s a better way to grow the economy without the massive volume of tourists being aimed for.

UOG President Robert Underwood said he hopes the discussions at the 6th Regional Island Sustainability Conference at the Hyatt Regency Guam on April 15 have provoked conversations.

The goal for 2 million tourists a year is stated in the Guam Visitors Bureau’s Tourism 2020 plan.

That goal isn’t new; the island tourism industry had aspired for that number in the ’90s, Underwood said.

The discussion on visitor arrivals should include how the island will be challenged with the additional strain to its limited resources, Underwood said.

“I am not opposed to growth, or to economic development, but is there a way to pursue economic development where you have a different calculation?” Underwood asked.

Instead of aiming for 2 million tourists, who might spend $100 a day in the local economy, the goal could shift to aiming for fewer, but higher-spending tourists, he said. One million tourists who spend $300 a day in the local economy bring better results to the host community, because there’s lesser strain on the island’s resources, he said.

Underwood mentioned Palau as an example.

Palau has calculated the value of protecting a shark at around $1 million in tourism dollars because tourists from all over the world visit the island republic for its ecosystem, Underwood said.

The island republic has also realized that killing a shark results in a short-term gain of about $10,000, he said.

UOG and Ada’s Trust joined efforts in holding a video and essay contest among UOG students to foster the public discussion.

The winners of the video essay contest are Marcel Jardeleza, first place, who received a $1,000 prize; and Francis Valencia, second place, who won a $500 prize.

The winners of the written essay contest are Huy Tran, first place, who received $500; and Aguarin Iriarte, second place, who received $250.

Underwood said the question being asked seems critical of GVB’s goal, but many of the essays came up with the conclusion that 2 million tourist arrivals might be doable.

So the answer to the question is not clear-cut, Underwood said.

Ada said he hopes the contest will be expanded next year to include high school students.

He said it’s important for the community to discuss the issue because elected officials can’t just go along with the tourism businesses without weighing the pros and cons to the host community.

Tourism is like any other business — it’s about supply and demand, Ada said.

After Guam’s hotels went through years of tourism slowdown, they’re currently in a “sweet spot” with higher hotel rates and more tourists to fill their rooms, Ada said.

If Guam is flooded with additional hotel rooms, and another international crisis causes the island’s tourism industry to slump, hotel properties and the people who work there will go through another tough economic time, Ada said.


Information from: Pacific Daily News:


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