It is unlikely that a lot of Chinese know that Guam is the closest you can get to the United States from China. The island in the western Pacific is less than five hours flying time from the mainland and has a lot to offer when it comes to tourism.
For instance, tourists can take airplane rides over the sea, drive sports cars, watch dolphins play, go snorkeling or scuba diving to explore Guam’s underwater world, which features more than 400 types of coral, and 700 types of fish.
“The water parks and the Under Water World are favorites with children and young people,” says Pilar Laguana, the global marketing director at the Guam Visitors Bureau.
Another highlight of Guam is duty-free shopping where visitors can take Guam’s local Lam Lam bus (trolley) from one shopping station to the next.
“In Guam, sales staff do not hassle you when you are shopping,” says Laguana.
Guam’s annual shopping festival covers New Year and the Chinese Spring Festival holidays.
As for other attractions, Guam’s Chamorro culture offers many unique tastes and flavors.
Among them is red rice, which is made from the seeds of the Achote (Annatto) tree.
Guam is also a great place for romance. There are about 10,000 weddings hosted in Guam each year.
Li Mengran, the public relations manager of Beijing Utour International Travel Service Co, a major outbound-travel operator in China, says: “Most of our guests are young people who go there to enjoy their honeymoons or vacations.”
Utour has developed products for Guam since 2011, and most trips last 5-6 days.
Recent celebrity weddings on Guam have boosted the island’s profile, says Li.
Meanwhile, Guam is doing its bit to grab a bigger slice of the Chinese tourism market.
The Guam Visitors Bureau kicked off its campaign with a road show in Beijing on Feb 27, and other events will be held in Shanghai, Hangzhou in Zhejiang province and Guangzhou in Guangdong province.
The Guam tourism authority says 2017 is its “Year of Love”, and so it plans to showcase Guam as a destination for weddings, honeymoons and anniversaries.
Expanding on the theme, Laguana says: “Guam is a combination of natural landscapes, cultural heritage and shopping. And it is also an ideal destination to experience American style leisure with water sports without the crowds.”
As to why Guam is targeting China, it says it is because the country is an important travel market, and one that the island is committed to tapping.
According to China Tourism Academy statistics, Chinese outbound travel in 2015 increased 9.8 percent year on year, to more than 117 million outbound trips.
And, benefiting from the 10-year US multi-entry visa policy, Guam is seeing an increase in traffic from China.
Last year, Guam took in over 26,000 mainland visitors, up 11.4 percent on the previous year.
And the Guam bureau hopes to boost the numbers with help from Chinese travel agencies, and trade events such as workshops and seminars to help the Chinese learn more about the destination, and to get familiar with its festivals and events, says Laguana.
An international music festival and a marathon will also be staged on the island to spice up the visitor experience.
The Guam International Marathon in April will have various events, including a half marathon and 10K and 5K races. The race route will showcase Guam’s scenery.
Diving enthusiasts have another reason to visit Guam as the local authorities plan to host an event to mark the centenary of the scuttling of the SMS Cormoran II on April 7.
This event will include a series of educational and diving opportunities, and is a great chance for diving enthusiasts who want to explore the shipwrecks of the SMS Cormoran and the Tokai Maru.
As for culture buffs, the Guam Micronesia Island Fair is an annual cultural event that showcases the vibrant culture of Micronesia.
Here, visitors can experience the best of Micronesia in one amazing weekend featuring master carvers, blacksmiths, traditional sailing experts, jewelers, weavers, dancers, musicians and chefs and experience customs that have been in place for a millennia.
For lovebirds, there are more than 20 churches in Guam where they can have a wedding ceremony.
“We have wedding companies to prepare everything, and help create lifelong memories,” says Laguana.
When it comes to travel industry tie-ups, the Guam authority has joined hands with the Chinese travel trade and airlines.
It has partnered with China’s biggest online travel agency Ctrip and popular travel information-sharing website Mafengwo to develop options for individual travelers. And it has done a number of workshops with BrandUSA in second tier cities in China, to promote the island to a wider audience.
“We will continue to engage with the Chinese media and with consumers through our events and social media platforms,” says Laguana.
The Guam bureau now has offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu in Sichuan province, and is working with airlines to offer more convenient flight choices.
For those planning a trip, Hong Kong Express flies four times a week directly to Guam.
Separately, United Airlines operates a direct flight connecting Shanghai and Guam. The flight departs from Shanghai every Thursday and Sunday. The airline also has direct flights from Hong Kong, and offered chartered flights from Beijing during the Spring Festival holiday.
As for Guam’s ambitions for 2017. The island wants to welcome 35,000 Chinese visitors this year, it says.