Sunday, November 25, 2007

Guam Urged to Adopt Okinawa Tourism Model

Guam urged to adopt Okinawa tourism model
By Gerardo R. Partido
Variety News Staff 11/25/07

A HIGH-ranking official of a major luxury retailer on island has urged Guam leaders to learn from the experience of Okinawa, which managed to build a vibrant tourism industry despite hosting thousands of U.S. military personnel.

Jim Beighley, research and planning managing director of DFS and a board member of the Guam Visitors Bureau, said Guam officials should consult with Okinawa, which has years of experience in integrating tourism with the military.

“For years, Okinawa suffered from the perception of being just one big military base. Now, they have managed to change that and their tourism industry is making big strides,” Beighley said.

He added that Guam is at a crossroads today as it prepares to welcome thousands of additional military personnel.

“We must welcome the increased presence of the military. But not at the expense of tourism,” Beighley said.

GVB has pointed out that with all the attention being focused on the military buildup, the tourism industry must not be ignored as this important sector continues to be the number one revenue earner for the island, accounting for 20,000 jobs or about one third of the island’s employment.

Recent research commissioned by GVB indicated that the image of Guam in Japan and other markets would not be harmed by the military buildup.

In fact, GVB has been actively marketing Guam to the military market not just in the Asia-Pacific area but in the mainland as well.

In addition, GVB has been asking military veterans to visit Guam and other sites in the region connected with World War II.

The Guam Chamber of Commerce agrees that GovGuam must do everything possible to protect what Beighley described as a “fragile” industry, especially with an estimated 25,000 more people coming to Guam and enjoying the island’s beaches and other natural attractions.

With Guam basically doing Okinawa a favor by agreeing to host the relocated Marines, GVB said GovGuam should ask the Japanese government to help out in persuading more Japanese tourists to visit Guam.

Although the island of Okinawa may be losing some of its U.S. military units to Guam, it is gaining something just as important — Japanese tourists.

The prefecture has been hosting thousands of non-Okinawan couples. In contrast, there were only 200 such ceremonies conducted in Okinawa in 1999.

According to GVB, Okinawa has been very aggressive in its pursuit of the wedding market and has become a major competitor of Guam.

Beighley said Guam is losing many Japanese tourists to Okinawa and GVB must continue its efforts to diversify its markets.

“We are too dependent on Japan,” Beighley stressed.

Approximately 80 percent of Guam’s 1.2 million visitors come from Japan.

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