4,000 jobs estimated if China approved for visa waiver - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

4,000 jobs estimated if China approved for visa waiver

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by Ken Quintanilla

Guam - In the next decade, officials foresee thousands of job opportunities, a booming tourism industry and close to a billion dollars worth of economic benefits to Guam as they continue to push for the China-Russia Visa Waiver Program. And today's Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Forum couldn't be more timely, as officials look to take advantage of the parole authority that was granted for Russia while continuing to push for China resulting in endless possibilities.

The Department of Homeland Security continues to review the possibility of extending parole authority to Chinese visitors.  Just last week DHS secretary Janet Napolitano announced that Russia was granted parole authority, which means visitors from that country can visit the island. A forum, held at the Hyatt Tuesday, brought hundreds of the island's government and business leaders as well as potential investors together to discuss not only the history and current status of the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program, but challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Governor Eddie Calvo's chief policy advisor Arthur Clark said the forum helped accelerate the team's initiative and show the progress that has been made over the more than four-year process. "You have a lot of people who are ready to invest," he announced, "but investors like to see certainty in economic conditions or they like to see movement in positive economic direction. So I think this is important to show everybody the efforts that's going into that."

A delegation recently returned from the nation's capitol where they pushed for China and Russia to be included in the visa waiver program.  Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association president Mary Torre stressed that stakeholders must take note of opportunities and challenges to corner the market. She said, "In the last year, we've seen Saipan have 12% of the market for Russia, so that's an opportunity in itself. If you compare it to our Korean market we only get about 10% in our market are Korean tourists, so if we have that same growth similar to Saipan where we can have that regional approach we can share in some of those visitors and even grow and expand in that and help CNMI along the way as well."

Torre says the main goal is to get China and Russia on a permanent status. If and when that happens, she says airlines will see real opportunities to begin regular flights but airline capacity will be the number one challenge. Other challenges including scheduling for visitors during peak and non-peak seasons for hotel capacity, language barriers and branding.

Clark adds that parole authority adds a level of uncertainty for investors. He says parole authority is totally discretionary for homeland security meaning they can reject or withdraw the authority anytime. "But administratively, bureaucratically there would be more steps that would have to go through, so it gives anybody who's thinking about investing in Guam and putting a hotel up an added measure of security if the tourists are given full visa waiver status."

As for jobs, Clark estimates that for every 250,000 Chinese tourists it would result in close to 4,000 additional jobs on Guam. As for Russia, he doesn't know the exact figures but is working with the Guam Visitors Bureau and the Marianas Visitors Authority to learn more. In the next decade, he estimates a total local spend increase between $1 billion to $2 billion going directly into tourism with a 1.75 multiplier for Guam's tourism satellite account that would bring in $1.8 billion to $3.6 billion of additional economic activities to the island.

The next step is appealing to different countries, organizations, and private institutions to solicit for support and get their message across to our nation's capitol.

In pushing for support, today, Governor Eddie Calvo wrote Federated States of Micronesia president Emanuel Mori, asking for his endorsement of Guam's efforts for the china visa waiver program. The FSM is the only Micronesian country that recognizes China. 

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