Thursday, October 30, 2008

Guam tourism is not facing a crisis

The recent story in the Pacific Daily News about layoffs at DFS is not good news, obviously, but the story suggests this decline in tourism underpinning the layoffs will be longterm. Pessimism always seems the greatest at the onset of a problem, but I don’t think this conclusion is warranted.  

The economic downturn will pass, especially on Guam which will get a big stimulus from the military build-up. Even if Japanese tourism is declining as that population ages, I suspect there’s a lot of untapped interest in Guam.

When I first came to Guam in the mid-1970s, visitors from Japan were the mainstay of Guam’s tourism economy. There were Korean tourists, but not as many as I saw in subsequent visits years later.

Japan is one of the world’s largest economies with a high standard of living and Guam is a relatively short flight. As the Korean economy picked up, more people from that country discovered Guam as a vacation destination.

Present problems aside, the economies in the rest of Asia are expanding and I believe Guam’s potential to draw more vacationers from China, Philippines and elsewhere will only increase.

What’s Guam’s strategy for expanding its ability to draw tourists from other places in Asia?

The big issue is gambling. The DSF layoffs may help convince people to approve a plan to legalize gambling at Guam Greyhound Park, essentially turning it into a giant casino. That will boost tourism and create jobs, no question, but it will also fundamentally change the island by introducing many new ills and problems. It’s amazing how quickly you can loose so much. Little good comes from gambling.

The Japanese tourists have been coming to Guam for decades for its beauty, not gambling. That hasn’t changed. Gambling may increase tourism but it will extract a heavy price as well.

But the person who said it best, was Gov. Felix Camacho. He  is urging voters to vote “no” on this plan. Excerpts from the PDN report:

“I believe with all my heart that this measure, if allowed to pass, will bring nothing but devastation and destruction to our great island, our close-knit community and, most importantly, to our families and future generations,” Camacho said. “Make no mistake about it. Casino gambling will strip our people of the core values of commitment to faith and, to family. Children will be hurt, marriages ruined, homes lost. Our people will be torn apart.”

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