It is good news that Japan will ease quarantine restrictions for returning citizens and foreign nationals entering the country in March. If we are lucky enough to avoid a new variant or any other setback, this development can be a real step towards a viable recovery of the tourism industry.
For Guam to maximize this opportunity, the administration and legislature must do everything possible to support GVB and businesses related to the tourism industry.
Current estimates reveal that only 74% of tourism-related businesses have reopened. And many, if not all, of these businesses operate on a limited or part-time basis. With so little demand and so few visitors arriving on the island, it is amazing that many of these businesses are operating.
The Local Employer Assistance Program has been a vital effort to help keep many Guam businesses open and residents employed. The governor recently increased funding for LEAP by $5 million.
But the program will need much more than that if we are to ensure that enough businesses are open and operating at sufficient capacity to ensure that arriving visitors have enough to do to enjoy their stay. Otherwise, news of a tourist destination with no tourism activities will soon spread and hamper our reopening efforts.
The governor will have to allocate more of the remaining US bailout funds to the LEAP program. After surviving two years of the pandemic with little or no revenue, it is unrealistic to expect any business, except very large local businesses and those owned by large corporations, to continue to remain open and operate without additional funding.
And with the multitude of islanders still unemployed and looking for work, the Leon Guerrero administration is also expected to create a temporary jobs program aimed at sprucing up Tumon Bay and other parts of Guam. The administration can and should consider developing a temporary program to get people back to work and help prepare our island for visitors to return to our shores.
A temporary employment program should include island beautification efforts, with a strong public safety component. There are many examples of community safety programs that Guam could emulate to ensure visitors have a safe and crime-free vacation. These types of programs may temporarily employ people and demonstrate to our visitors that the government of Guam is doing everything it can to ensure that Guam is a safe and enjoyable place to visit.
Additionally, the tourism industry must continue to adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols. Our Asian neighbors will likely continue to wear masks and follow COVID guidelines longer than many in our community would like. We need to balance our local preferences with the protocols that make our Asian customers feel safe and comfortable.
The arrival of Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese tourists will be slow in 2022 and beyond. Our preparedness efforts can either help or hinder the situation. We are all exhausted from the stress and struggle of the past two years, but no matter how much we hope things will get better on their own, the truth is that economic restoration will not happen spontaneously or automatically. .
The government of Guam must not hesitate to act. We need our community to be safe, stable and clean so recovery can happen as soon as possible. We must be proactive and take steps towards viable opportunities to begin to put these economic difficulties behind us.
Jesse Anderson Lujan is a former senator.