Using shopping, sports and the environment to maintain Taiwanese tourism numbers, Guam now looks to improve upon the market’s safety concerns
By Thomas Johnson
With the Guam Visitors Bureau working to fulfill its Tourism 2020 plan by the allotted date, more effort is being made by the island’s hospitality industry to grow the island’s smaller visitor segments, including the industry’s third-largest source of visitor revenue, Taiwan.
“When the people in Taiwan think of Guam, they think of it as a very beautiful, natural island,” says Ken C.P. Hu, director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office. “Blue ocean, blue sky, clean beaches — that sort of thing. I think, in general, it’s a very positive image of the island.”
In addition to its natural attraction, Hu says he has gathered from conversations with local travel agents that many Taiwanese are interested in traveling to Guam because they want to visit or emigrate to the United States. “When they realize Guam is a U.S. territory, they feel like if they can travel to Guam, it’s like traveling to the U.S. It’s a very important factor to take into consideration,” he says.
Brian M. Borja, GVB’s marketing officer for the greater China market — which includes Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China — says that the image GVB is attempting to convey to the Taiwan market is that of a romantic destination and of a leisure and family destination.
“We’re definitely also increasing our reputation as a sports destination as well, particularly for running and cycling, which is huge in Taiwan,” Borja says. “I think that the perception that the typical Taiwanese visitor has of Guam is of an island resort destination, in the sense that we’re fun, we’re safe, we’re in close proximity to Taiwan, and we’re ideal for couples, families and sports tourism.”
GVB has also been working to promote Guam in Taiwan as a wedding and honeymoon destination, according to GVB General Manager Jon Nathan P. Denight. “We’ve also brought out several celebrities to help increase awareness of the island, and I believe several scenes for a popular Taiwanese movie have been shot here recently, as well,” he says.
According to Hu, Taiwan-centric tour agents agree that Taiwanese visitors in their 20s and 30s prefer to come for the many activities that the island offers, ranging from water sports to hiking, cycling, skydiving and golf. By contrast, he adds, many older members of the Taiwan market tend to prefer sightseeing, relaxation and shopping due to the lack of sales tax.
“Compared to Taipei, it’s excellent quality for much lower prices,” he says. “[…] It leaves a very good impression because of the convenience and the fact that it’s just a much cheaper price for luxury items than it would be in Taiwan.”
Borja agrees, saying that GVB exit surveys have also indicated that while relaxation, leisure, sightseeing and historical and cultural experiences all rank very high on the list of Taiwan visitors’ activities, shopping is most visitors’ number one motivation while visiting the island.
“They love to shop,” Borja says. “They really, really love it. Of course, there’s shopping in Taiwan, but Guam is a unique destination because it’s a U.S. destination with a lot of island flavor. We have all the duty-free areas they can visit, but they particularly like to visit the luxury shops. If you visited the T Galleria this past Chinese New Year, you would have noticed that we had a major influx of visitors from all of our greater China markets, including Taiwan.”
Borja noted that T Galleria has posted signage indicating what the same item would cost in Taiwan or China. “It was a difference of approximately 25% to 30%. And Taiwanese visitors enjoy that discount, particularly in the luxury realm, but, of course, Guam has a variety of shops, ranging from luxury to boutiques to bargain shopping to flea markets,” he says.
According to Denight, comments from Taiwanese visitors have been positive regarding their experiences here, but two major issues that the bureau hopes to address in the coming years are safety and seat capacity.
“The flights, in particular, are going to be a challenge,” Denight says. The Taiwan market is currently being served by two airlines — EVA Air and China Airlines — but each airline currently only offers one Guam-Taiwan flight per week, with both flights arriving on Thursday shortly before sunrise and departing on Sunday shortly after.
“The departure time isn’t too bad, but that’s just a very inconvenient time to arrive,” he says. “What ends up happening is that they come in early in the morning, and they don’t want to spend full price on a few hours’ stay in their room. So they end up hitting up K-Mart for the morning, or looking for something to do like an early-morning city tour of Hagåtña. But when you’ve been up all night traveling, going on a walking tour at 6 a.m. is obviously less than ideal. So we’re definitely working on getting more flight service, day flight service, or just adding another day to the Guam-Taiwan route. It’s especially tough for runners who fly here for the Guam Ko’Ko Road Race or the Guam International Marathon because the scheduling means they have to get here early and stay here longer than they want to.”
Hu voices the same sentiment, adding that local Taiwanese and visitors alike have expressed their opinion on the inconvenient scheduling directly to the airlines, but no action has yet been taken. “We’ve also heard word that TransAsia Airways has been trying to establish regular flights from Guam to Taiwan as well,” he says, “but they’ve had to temporarily place their proposal on hold due to the recent unfortunate accident.”
Denight and GVB Public Information Officer Josh Tyquiengco say that the bureau has been in talks with EVA Air since last year regarding changes to the schedule, but the conversation has yet to be finalized.
“Every time I’m there, I ask if it’s possible to add more flights, or at least an extra day of the week,” Denight says, “but it’s all about airline utilization. It’s hard for them to dedicate the plane to Guam during the day because they’re looking at longer-haul destinations that can generate more yield revenue. The [A.B. Won Pat International Airport Authority, Guam] also has incentives in place to entice people to come in during off-peak hours, which is why you see a lot of red-eye flights coming in from Asia early in the morning.”
Safety is also a common concern among the Taiwanese market, and Hu says that lack of proper street lighting near certain sections of Pale San Vitores Road and the Sheraton Laguna Guam Resort has been a point of concern among many Taiwanese visitors. However, Denight acknowledges that safety has been a big concern across all markets as of late and says that the bureau will be replacing all non-operational light fixtures in Tumon by the end of March.
In the interim, he adds, the bureau has been working on making the streets of Tumon safer and more convenient via the use of their cadre of safety officers, who serve a dual function as both crime deterrents and guides.
“We’ve stationed them along San Vitores Road as well as the beach,” Denight says. “They’ve prevented several drownings and really elevated the presence and atmosphere of safety in Tumon. There’s also a [closed-circuit television] camera system that was installed in Tumon over a decade ago, but it’s fallen into disrepair and we’re hoping to upgrade the system and re-install it over the course of the next year.”
In regards to the future growth of the Taiwanese market, Borja says the bureau has been pushing the island’s popularity in Taiwan through a variety of trade promotions for local events and a strong social media campaign.
“[The Taiwanese are] really big on social media,” Tyquiengco says. “I was in a discussion with members of the Taiwan media, who visited earlier this year, and they mentioned that GVB Taiwan’s social media page had garnered over 49,000 followers.”
The growth of the market has been pretty steady, Denight says. “But I think we won’t see significant growth until we see a change in seat capacity. As long as EVA and China Airlines maintain their current flight schedules, it might be difficult to increase yield. It’s also tricky because Taiwan is a source market for us, but they’re also a competitor of sorts, since it’s a relatively warm place and serves as a travel destination for the Asian market. It’s our third-largest market, but it might be one of the more difficult ones to grow compared to the Korean market. We do have a lot of ties to Taiwan and the Taiwanese community, though, particularly because of the strong local Taiwanese business community and the significant amount of investment that the island receives because of that link.”
Hu says that the growth of the Taiwanese visitor market from 40,000 visitors per year four or five years ago to nearly 50,000 tourists per year in 2014 is not a drastic improvement compared to the Korean market, which has gone up by about 20% or 30%. “But it is an improvement,” he says. “And in my personal opinion, that’s actually quite an achievement, attracting 50,000 visitors per year from that market because Guam has so many competitors in that arena. Southeast Asian countries, like Bali and Thailand, are much cheaper to reach by comparison, and may have better accommodations, so you might assume that more people would be traveling there. But the growing numbers tell a different story. As I said before, Guam holds major appeal because it’s a U.S. territory and provides visitors with so many activities and options.”
Hu says he hopes that Taiwanese tourism will continue to grow and advance on Guam. “There are a lot of people in Taiwan who like to do this sort of ‘getaway travel’ in destinations like Guam and Palau, away from big cities and crowded areas,” he says.
Additionally, he says he hopes the GVB office in Taiwan will continue to keep expanding its marketing efforts.
“In this type of business, you need to constantly make your presence known, and I’m very impressed overall with the results that they’ve produced,” Hu says. “Fifty thousand per year might seem small compared to a lot of the other markets, but given the number of options that most Taiwanese tourists have, it’s very, very impressive.”