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Projected changes in Guam's tourism industry

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Big changes are coming to Guam's billion-dollar tourism industry - with the island's second largest visitor market positioned to take the top spot in the coming years. Business is booming in Guam's number one market, but as Guam Visitors Bureau general manager Nate Denight told the Rotary Club of Northern Guam this week, work needs to be done to keep the tourism industry thriving, especially considering the radical shifts in the existing market.

"In 2016 we had 1.5 million [visitors], so a big growth. The tourism market, it's really been changing, the visitor arrival mix," said Denight.  While Japan has been Guam's top market for the past two decades, arrivals from Korea could soon take the top spot. Last year, arrivals from Japan made up 49% of visitors, while those from Korea made up 34%. The shift may be related in part to airline seat capacity, with only four airlines servicing Japan, and five servicing Korea.

A sixth airline - Air Seoul - is expected to enter the Guam market later this year. "Number one," said Denight, "Guam has seen a decline in Japan and part of that reason is the air seats as I mentioned 3733 but Guam has become a more expensive destination, so the average package price for Guam 5 years ago was about $700, we're over $1,000. So you're talking about a 30-40% price increase."

This shift is noticeable in the average room rate, which has grown from $130 per room night five years ago to $198 per room night today. "The time we're in has been the most change and disruptive time in the travel industry that we've ever seen," he continued.

As the Korea market grows, Denight said the island can expect to see a range of visitors - from families, to budget and high-end spenders. Meanwhile Japan is seeing an increasingly aging population, which is why GVB is hoping to hone in on the country's silver market.

"We're shifting in Japan to show Guam more as a preview destination rather than a budget destination, not offering those $200-300 packages, and of course, you're going to lose some volume by doing that. But in the long-run, I think that's the way it has to be in Japan because the market's not expanding," Denight added.

With tourism employing over 20,000 jobs and bringing in roughly $240 million in taxes every year, Denight said the island needs to continually invest in infrastructure and culture in order to propel the industry toward its goal of bringing in 2 million visitors by 2020. 

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