Buenas and Håfa Adai!
The year 2011 was a turbulent one for our island and for Micronesia as a whole. While Japan may not be the dominant market for arrivals for every destination, collectively, the Micronesian region depends on Japan to sustain its travel and tourism industries.
We are a unique set of islands that have much to offer visitors to this region. From crystal clear beaches and pure white sand to the best diving and fishing waters on the planet. From the busy shopping of Guam and the fishing center of the Marshalls to Palau's pristine Rock Islands, Micronesia is a gleaming part of Pacific Ocean inhabited by sunlit islands and warm friendly people. This is who we are — "Micronesia: Experience the warmth."
Moving forward what can we do better to communicate who we are and what we have to offer? What can we expect to get in return? What is our goal and where to we go from here?
There are many opportunities for us as a region, and the outlook for the travel and tourism industry is bright.
Guam is the largest island in Micronesia. With a million-plus visitors a year and more than 100 weekly direct flights from major city centers such as Seoul, Honolulu and Tokyo, we are, for the most part, the first point of entry into the region.
Currently, United is the only U.S. flag carrier that services Micronesia, and by working with airline and leveraging our resources to market the region overseas with Guam as its hub, we will be able to obtain maximum benefits for all our people.
Last year, Guam welcomed about 1.1 million visitors to the island. Considering the triple disasters in Japan, this reflects a decrease of only 2% compared to fiscal 2010. This fiscal year, we project 1 to 1.4 million arrivals in Guam, and 1.1 to 1.5 million in fiscal 2013.
Our projections are rising; sans any major disasters we will meet that goal which presents additional opportunities for the islands of Micronesia to attract visitors already in the region.
Last year's arrivals were affected by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan. Japan represents more than 70% of arrivals to Guam, and in the months following the disasters, arrivals dropped as much as 27% and averaged a 16% drop through the end of the fiscal year.
The Guam Visitors Bureau launched contingency marketing plans through direct and traditional marketing means such as print and television advertisements focusing attention on the western region of Japan that were not directly affected by the disasters.
During times of tragedy like this one, our research shows that people move toward spending more time with family and their loved ones. As a response, GVB launched the "Omoide Guam" campaign in November 2011. Omoide is the Japanese word for memories. This campaign promotes Guam as the destination of choice for families and friends to make their memories. This campaign continues to be largely successful with increases in the past months. We ended February with a 4% increase in arrivals from Japan, compared to February 2011. With the increase at a pre-disaster time period, GVB is sure of major arrival gains in the months to come.
Additionally, with the rise in social media and networks, GVB has deployed a comprehensive strategy to study the use of social networking sites through out our markets. We have also deployed destination pages on the globally popular Facebook and Twitter networks as well as Weibo which is a more popular social network in mainland China. These pages help us attract potential visitors to Guam as well as allow us to interact with them through marketing campaigns and promotions.
We recently held a social media campaign with United in connection with the LA Times Travel Show. This campaign was a success, garnering increased activity and interaction on GVB's English Facebook page where one lucky winner won a round trip ticket to Guam courtesy of United.
Mid-last year, GVB partnered with the A.B. Won Pat International Airport Authority Guam as well as the U.S. Customs Border Protection to deploy the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. While not required for Guam, ESTA is an extra incentive offered by the federal government for overseas visitors to pre-authorize their entry into the United States. This ensures a quicker and smoother experience through U.S. Immigration. This program has been a success here on Guam and we continue to promote it with travel agents in our source markets.
On top of these programs, GVB sees the need to continue developing our product by diversifying our offerings and increasing cultural events for our visitors. Exit Surveys conducted with departing visitors show there is an increasing desire to learn more about the people and culture on top of the beaches and shopping that we currently offer. Because of this, GVB launched Branding 2.0. This is an effort to expand the local branding initiatives like the Hafa Adai Pledge, the Guam Island Fiesta Tour and the Guam Chamorro Dance Academy.
As our markets continue to evolve with different needs, the continuing re-development and enhancement of the product, our island, needs to keep up with the demand and meet those needs.
Guam's arrivals are on the rise, especially with the newly enacted visa parole authority for visitors from Russia. While it isn't a huge number, at the close of February 2012, GVB was tracking an increase in arrivals from Russia of more than 1,000%. With this expected to rise as well as arrivals from all our source markets, opportunities for travel throughout Micronesia from Guam are knocking at our door.
The first opportunity is to leverage the resources of the Pacific Asia Travel Association of which every state tourism bureau in Micronesia is an active member. Second, look at the prospects for joint marketing in travel shows, as well as social media campaigns to further promote our islands as a unique tropical destination. Third, is to conduct direct marketing of the Micronesian Islands on Guam. Finally, to move the branding effort forward and communicate the promise of who we are and what we have to offer through the brand message.
The Pacific Asia Travel Association is a global nonprofit membership organization that brings together people of the travel trade throughout the Asia Pacific region. PATA has a Micronesia Chapter that comprises 120 members including GVB, all state tourism bureaus, United Airlines, Triple J Enterprises, the Pacific Islands Club and Ideal Advertising.
PATA's mission is to enhance sustainable growth as well as the value and quality of the travel and tourism to, from and within the region. Leveraging the resources of this global organization and its members can help us move our efforts forward to attract more visitors to our region.
Another opportunity is utilizing cost-effective means for reaching potential visitors and showing them what we have to offer. Because of our remote location, budget always remains an issue. Maximizing other forms of marketing, aside from traditional media marketing of print and television advertising, social media through online blogs, microblogs and online profiles make it an easy and cost effective way to reach people, interact with them, and keep them coming back for more.
We may not have the resources to launch a huge campaign for Micronesia in Japan or any other country, but through the power of social media we are able to reach a number of people and entice them into coming to our islands. But we have to ensure that content is available to keep engaging visitors on our social-media platforms.
Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are a good first start as they are the largest platforms in the world for connecting and microblogging, but we also have to look to what are the larger social networks in our markets. Utilizing new and innovative ways to communicate our brand and its message will ultimately help us reach our goals.
Another way to maximize opportunities and cost-effective marketing is to conduct joint promotions at travel shows like the Japan Association of Travel Agents or the International Travel Fair in Taiwan. These travel shows are traditional forms of marketing, but offer us the opportunity to reach more than 700,000 fairgoers and potential visitors to the isles of Micronesia.
As mentioned earlier, Guam attracts a million-plus visitors a year. This is an extra opportunity for Micronesia to market to those already on Guam and increase arrivals to other Micronesian jurisdictions.
We offer the Hawaii model as a suggestion. When one lands in Honolulu, you are already given promotional materials and literature about the offerings of the rest of the islands in Hawaii. Why can't we do that on Guam?
Wherever you are in Oahu, you hear about Kaua'i and Molokai and what they have to offer. This gives visitors the opportunity to jump on a plane and visit another island. In the same way, direct marketing on Guam about the Rock Islands in Palau and the awesome golfing and water sports in Saipan for example will give that extra opportunity for visitors to jump on a plane and take a couple days trip to those islands.
This expands the reach of the Micronesian islands and may create increased demand for more air service with Guam as its hub.
It is important that when we market ourselves as Micronesia, we have a look, feel and message that promise visitors an experience they will never forget as well as get nowhere else. This is our opportunity to show people who we are and what we offer through art, font style and words that also speak to the fun they will have with us.
PATA Micronesia has begun this effort at the request of the Micronesian Chief Executives. As reported at the 17th Micronesian Chief Executives Summit, PATA Micronesia developed a symbol that features coconut leaves and blue waves that represents the natural beauty and marine life of the islands of Micronesia, encompassed in a circle that represents the sense of wholeness and unity rather than individual and separate islands. This symbol, once finalized, will represent what we are all about, and as One Micronesia, our future is bright.
Most people don't think of tourism as a solution to the many economic challenges our planet faces. However, tourism is in fact the fastest growing industry in the world. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, tourism visits grew from 900 to 940 millions visitors last year. This is projected to increase to 1.6 billion by 2020. The UNWTO also states that tourism is the world's largest industry accounting for an estimated 11.5% of the world gross domestic product and employs about 12.5% of the world's work force.
In order for Micronesian tourism to continue to grow, we must work together as a region to attract new air service, develop more hotels and attractions, promote our unique cultures, and create awareness of the Micronesian Brand as a destination. But I must stress that we can only be successful if we work as a team.
Also, be reminded about the possibility of a passenger cruise ship industry among our islands. Our lands are separated, but the ocean unites us and we must capture this opportunity to further utilize our seas as a means to promote our unique offerings, cultures and adventures.
The year 2011 presented many challenges with the triple disasters in Japan and changes in the airlines, but 2012 presents new opportunities. Guam was recently granted visa parole authority for Russians and we just returned from Moscow promoting Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and Micronesia as a whole. Gov. Edward B. Calvo; Madeleine Z. Bordallo, Guam's delegate to Congress; the 31st Guam Legislature and all our stakeholders continue to strive to include China in a visa waiver program as well, which will definitely be a game changer for all of Micronesia.
Si Yu'os Ma'ase and may God continue to bless us in the work that we do for our people and for Micronesia.
Joann G. Camacho is general manager of the Guam Visitors Bureau. She can be reached at 646-5278