Håfa Adai! East Asian travelers are emerging savvier and choosier than ever as destinations across the region retool their economies for the health conscious new realities of a post-pandemic world.
The good news is that now a more constrained coronavirus already has leveled the playing field. Furthermore, travel-ready trip planners are eager to navigate their way through lingering COVID-19 roadblocks as they weigh destination options. Locations and attractions that consistently offer the most irresistible combination of safety, convenience and novel new experiences will rise head and shoulders above the fray.
Largely undeterred by COVID-era seat-capacity reductions, inflation, higher airfares, and delayed visa processing, today’s cash-flush Asian travelers are planning their trips well in advance, even going so far as to pack extra clothes and medicines in their carry-ons in expectation of airport congestion. Plus, they’re showing a preference for longer stays, luxury options and visiting Europe and the United States.
Thankfully, Guam is well positioned to hit a market sweet spot comprised of “revenge” and “mass affluent” travelers, many of whom have been piling up extra cash during lockdowns because they’ve had nowhere else to spend it. After more than two years of biding their time under the weight of in-country travel restrictions, naturally, they’re frustrated with the monotony of shuddered lifestyles, motivated by the lure of adventure and willing to shell out a little extra on upscaling select experiences and forging unforgettable memories abroad because they no longer feel stuck at home.
Conversion is key
But for Guam, turning these one-off revenge experiences into habit is the secret sauce to reawakening our primary markets such as Japan and Taiwan and revitalizing our happily re-emergent South Korean arrivals. Maybe these vacation-hungry trekkers decide to fly coach-plus or business class for the first time. Or maybe they upgrade their hotel room selection and siphon a little more of their disposable income into gifts, luxury items or meals. Perhaps they choose to spend extra for a personal guided tour or expert concierge services just for themselves and their companions.
And if Guam can see fit to give them more authenticated reasons to appreciate our 4,000-year-old CHamoru culture and natural tropical environment, we won’t be surprised to find them booking ecotours and paying higher prices to interact responsibly. We could soon find them making concerted efforts to reduce their carbon footprints throughout their stays, even while they contemplate their next visits here because they truly value a locale that takes such good care of itself.
Whatever the case, here are some key takeaways for travel trade professionals to keep in mind as the Guam Visitors Bureau and our trusted industry partners work to reopen traditional markets and strike up new ones through incentives, air service expansion and lobbying the Department of Transportation for guidance and assistance:
- Make all travel options fast and easy: Tourists already expect booking backlogs, long lines and flight delays in transit during the gradual ramp-up to air route recovery. This is all the more reason to fully digitize marketing and purchasing decisions. If air seat capacities, room vacancies, or product/service inventories are low at the moment, then automate the touchback process so they can pay on their digital devices the moment the airfare they want, the room grade they want, or the tour they want is available.
- Cater to today’s priorities: Not only has the pandemic left travelers more tech-savvy and digitally interdependent than ever, it’s penetrated a deep need for self care. Wayfarers are listening to their bodies, adjusting their priorities, and reconnecting with nature. Is it any wonder that traditional beer and liquor brewers and Asian restaurants, bars, and nightclubs are now selling and serving more nonalcoholic drinks than ever? Not every vacation morning is fit for a hangover in an age when today’s remote workers are weaving business projects around their sightseeing.
- Encourage longer stays: Travelers want nothing more than to rejuvenate and free themselves from more than two years of COVID-19 isolation. While today’s guests may be willing to spend more on their getaways, incentives will make them feel all the more relaxed and valued and ready to contemplate return visits.
- Grab their attention, don’t let go: Make your online and in-person offers so irresistible your guests would kick themselves for not jumping right in!
- Make way for more Filipino visitors: After pressing concerted effort since 2019, my colleagues and I have attained a better than even chance of adding the Philippines to the official list of countries whose passport holders may legally enter Guam visa-free. The Philippines is Destination Guam’s primary expansion market, and my contacts in Washington, D.C. and at Philippine Airlines are now gaining substantial traction towards attaining visa-free status for our beloved kababayans.
Furthermore, I encourage all tourism trade executives in our region to explore the countless underrepresented travel demographics that are already highly accessible through the Department of Homeland Security’s Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program. This U.S.-sanctioned advantage allows the citizens of a dozen nations the privilege of entering Guam and the Northern Marianas without a visa, including visitors from Australia, Brunei, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom. And it is through this very program that we hope to add the Philippines to the list as soon as possible.
As the Asia-Pacific region’s relatively young, middle-income jetsetters and their families mature and make more money, they are likely to pour more time, wealth and resources into Guam if they have an exceptionally good time every time they visit. So, our longer term priority must be to seed a succession of qualitative experiences into every step of their itineraries, from charting their trips to engaging with us as outstanding hosts here on the ground while making their return trips as enjoyable as possible, too.
We’ve reached a strategic inflection point in global tourism. We must respond decisively to disruptive change. Now is our chance to transform mass affluent travelers into loyal fans of Destination Guam USA.
We can do this by offering them on-message deluxe choices that won’t break the bank, but that will nevertheless help convince them that a little extra expense is worth the investment of learning to appreciate our fascinating CHamoru culture as well as our island’s unique brand of hospitality. Today’s highly determined travelers are a good test market and represent a bridge for Guam’s long-held goal of entertaining wealthier, more selective guests.
Former Gov. Carl T.C. Gutierrez is the president and CEO of Guam Visitors Bureau, Guam Permit Czar, and chairman of the Governor’s Economic Strategy Council. Send comments or questions to GVB at [email protected].