TUMON, Guam – The Department of Homeland Security last week granted visa parole authority for Russian visitors to come to Guam. Parole authority allows tourists to enter the island on a case-by-case basis, without the need for a visa. Russian tourists will be allowed to visit Guam for up to 45 days, however, a timeline for implementing the program has not been announced.
This announcement was welcome news to trade industry leaders who gathered for a Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Forum held Tuesday at Hyatt Regency Guam. Panelists representing government, travel trade, and hospitality were invited to share valuable information about the region’s four-year pursuit of a full visa waiver for Chinese and Russian visitors. The Guam Visitors Bureau (GVB) organized the event as part of its ongoing efforts to bring a visa waiver to fruition.
Guam Governor Edward Baza Calvo addressed the stakeholders pointing out that Guam is the closest American soil to East Asia. “If you combine China, Japan, Korea, and other nations of east Asia, you’ve got 1.7 billion people with economies experiencing 7 percent growth,” said Calvo.
According to a report by Chief Policy Advisor to the Governor, Arthur Clark, Guam has much to gain from a visa waiver program. A conservative projection is US$144.5 million (in 2011 dollars) in additional net annual revenues to the government of Guam in the year 2020. China alone would account for US$138.5 million of that increase, a 21 percent increase in Guam’s total annual revenues.
Industry leaders fully expect this new parole authority to go to a formal visa waiver and hope for a China visa waiver before the next presidential election. Leaders also agreed to a “Team Guam” approach to the issue in Washington. Guam’s US Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo has been a vocal supporter of the visa waiver making it one of her top legislative priorities.
GVB Board Member Bruce Kloppenburg said that China is creating 45 new airports in the next 10 years. The World Tourist Organization reports that China is expected to have 100 million outbound travelers by 2020, an increase of 20 million. Japan has just 16 million outbound travelers annually.
According to the Euromonitor International report, Russia follows China with an increase of nearly 12 million new outbound trips.
Russia tour agent, Natalia Bespalova of Guam Voyage, said that Russians tourists seek luxury accommodations in a warm and friendly place, often spending 2 to 3 weeks vacationing. Michael Ysrael, Guam International Airport Authority Chairman of the Board, said that Russian tourists are increasingly the FIT type — free and independent — rather than going through a travel agent. He added, “When you market toward an FIT, these are individual travelers — everything is much more personalized. The dollars are much bigger.”
“The Russia visa waiver parole is a step in the right direction, but all stakeholders are still pushing for the China visa waiver, which will have an enormous impact on the local economy,” said GVB General Manager Joann Camacho, “A China visa waiver will also positively impact Mainland US travel because Guam is the closest US destination to Asia and a gateway to North America.”
This calendar year to date, Guam has received 6,375 Chinese visitors, a 50.2 percent increase over 2010.
Sponsors of the event include United Airlines, Sorensen Media Group, KUAM, Isla 63, i94, Channel 11, Shooting Star Productions, DFS Galleria Guam, Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Guam, Guam Premier Outlets, Pacific Daily News, and Marianas Variety.