Not even a nuclear crisis can keep South Korean tourists away from Guam
By RACHEL PREMACK | The Washington Post | Published: August 12, 2017
Guam is an ideal vacation spot for many South Koreans, and not even nuclear threats against the tropical island appear to be keeping them away.
Son Hye-ra, a Seoul office worker, is among vacationers who say they will proceed with their plans to visit. "I think the safety of these people is similar here and there," she told the Herald Business News.
Travel agents in Guam and South Korea say they have fielded lots of inquiries from South Koreans, who make up about 46 percent visitors to the U.S. territory. But few have actually canceled their vacations since North Korea threatened to launch a nuclear attack against the island, the Herald Business News and Guam's Pacific Daily News reported this week.
The reason may be, as Post correspondent Anna Fifield reported this week, that "South Koreans have become inured to the threat of North Korea – because they've lived in a state of war for more than six decades, and weathered regular threats and actual casualties."
Indeed, most posts on a popular Internet community for South Korean tourists to Guam lacked "fire and fury," or even hints of panic. The top posts from this week include an advertisement for cheap WiFi for travelers and another about big discounts at Guam's Gap, Levi and Guess outlets. Yes, there's a statement concerning the North Korea situation. But last month's notice about snorkel mask discounts received more than 100 more comments.
The relaxed reaction from South Korean travelers is good news for Guam. Tourism is the island's top industry, generating 60 percent of business revenue. It employs 18,000 people, comprising 30 percent of all nonfederal jobs. If Koreans suddenly started avoiding the island, particularly in the popular travel month of August, the island's economy would be dramatically affected.
Officials from Guam's tourism office see a bright side to the crisis. Josh Tyquiengco, marketing director at the Visitors Bureau, said the newfound attention on Guam was a chance to educate people about the small island. "The circumstances are unfortunate, but this is a good opportunity for us to educate the world about Guam and our culture, about where we are and who we are," he said in an interview with the Agence France-Presse.
It wouldn't be the first time a place got a tourism boost from a crisis. Greece, which has been in the headlines because of its ongoing economic depression and the migrant crisis, experienced record tourism in 2016 and 2017. The United Kingdom, after months of Brexit reporting, also saw record tourism numbers this year, partially because of the falling pound.
It's all the more exceptional for little-known Guam to break into the nightly news.
Guam is a U.S. territory with a strategic military base and more than 160,000 U.S. citizens – not to mention its glorious beaches and a multicultural society. Still, few Americans know much about it. That became clear when "What is Guam?" was Googled so much this week that it became a meme.
Now that folks have gotten their answers from Google, perhaps Guam could have another record-breaking number of travelers. One local newspaper, the Guam Daily Post, was even keen on convincing the hoard of visiting journalists to stick around for a "beachside barbecue."
"These war correspondents may leave their Guam assignment with a bit of a letdown after all the hype," the op-ed board suggested Friday. "But . . . hopefully they'll be back as vacation guests."