Direct charters from Russia cease
Guam - They're the largest country in the world and no doubt the fastest growing market in Guam's tourism industry. But recent challenges within the country have ceased direct charters possibly for the rest of the year.
Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association chairman and Hotel Santa Fe Guam president Bart Jackson says Russian visitors love Guam, noting, "They love a visa waiver, they love being able to come to the United States without a visa, but when I talk to them about their experience, what they really love about Guam is that it's such a safe easy vacation."
Jackson, who happens to be married to a Russian, was the guest speaker at today's Rotary Club of Guam where he spoke on Russian tourism over the last several years. He says in 2011, Guam had 632 arrivals from Russia. Once Homeland Security granted parole authority for Russian visitors in early 2012, the number increased to 4,000. The following year the number increased even more. "So we went from 4,000 to 8,000 doubling our numbers this year, we're going to do 15,000 arrivals from Russia," he said.
Part of the spike last year was a result of direct charter flights through Avia Charter and Orenair from Vladivostok and Khabarovsk. Those direct flights however have ceased most recently. Guam International Airport Authority marketing administrator Rolenda Faasuamalie says the direct flights have not been suspended but rather Orenair has not submitted a schedule for September or October. She said, "Because it was a charter on-demand operation, obviously they didn't sell tickets or perhaps there were issues they had to attend to however, the issues are not on our side but they maintain their license and their federal authorities to operate to Guam so they're free to come back, return and resume operations at any time."
She says staff continues to see Russian visitors come to Guam through entry points of either Korea or Japan instead. Jackson on the other hand, says some of the challenges possibly stem at how Europe imposed a number of sanctions on travel where the charters began to run into some financial difficulties. He says Avia Charter for whatever reason never paid Orenair directly, but instead through an intermediary.
"And then the intermediary went bust as a result of problems they had, or so they say, problems they had on the European side so Orenair said to Avia Charter, I don't have any money, Avia Charter said, I don't owe you any money and there in line the challenge so all flights were cancelled, all charter flights, all direct flights from Russian to Guam cancelled in August," he explained.
Jackson adds his sources indicate that flights aren't expected through the remainder of the year. He says another part of the challenge is many visitors from Russia tend to book and pay for their rooms in advance and because of recent issues with the charter flights, it's left a not-so positive impression. "And so there's a bit of a negative feeling, not about Guam specifically but about the whole idea of flying charters to Guam because so many folks have gotten burned," he said.
The bottom line, Jackson says, Russians are fond of Guam and will keep coming, but it will take time to return to the direct charters.
Russian visitors in the meantime on the average stay 15-days on Guam compared to the average of Japanese, Taiwanese or Korean visitors who stay between 3 to 4 days. He adds they also spend on average $1,600 not including hotel stay.