Guam- Remote, but No Longer Overlooked
There’s a saying in Hollywood that “any publicity is good publicity.” And if you’re a leisure destination that loves publicity that helps to attract visitors, that’s generally true. But the folks on the U.S. Territory of Guam can’t be all that happy these days with the international attention they’ve been getting.
That’s because their island has been the target of hostility by North Korea as part of its word war with the White House. At one point just a few months ago, the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un threatened to lob some ballistic missiles into the waters just off Guam’s coast.
Television stations in the mainland U.S. that almost never even mention Guam immediately provided viewers with maps showing its location with arrows tracing the possible path of missiles from North Korea to Guam’s offshore waters. Obviously, if you’re a resort destination that relies heavily on tourists, that certainly doesn’t help business.
Some tour groups from Japan immediately cancelled their trips for the weeks ahead. The move came ironically as Guam in September recorded the end of a record fiscal year for tourism, an influx of 1.56 million visitors.
Still, the Guamanians seem to have taken all the fuss in stride. Says Jeff Bristol, a local businessman, “I don’t feel too threatened by the rhetoric from Kim Jung-Un. North Korea must know that any preemptive strike against Guam will result in the total annihilation of their regime.” He adds, “We go about our lives normally, but the threats are something that crosses our minds.”
As winter comes to northeast Asia, those in Guam’s tourism industry hope that its recreational attractions and warm weather, despite political tensions, will continue to draw visitors in Japan and South Korea eager to get away from snow and cold winter rains. One tourist official puts it this way: “Just as residents along the U.S. east coast look to the Caribbean islands for a winter getaway, Asians look to Guam for exactly the same reason.”
Guam’s location in the far western Pacific Ocean plays a big part in its attraction for Asians on vacation. It is, after all, much closer to Japan, Korea, the Philippines or China then, say, Hawaii. That state is some 3,800 miles from Guam and the U.S. west coast is almost 6,000 miles away. So, while Guam certainly welcomes visitors from the mainland of the U.S., it realistically looks to its neighboring countries to support its highly attractive tourism features. They don’t disappoint.
The entire island is ringed by coral reefs that create calm lagoons of turquoise water between their crashing waves and the sand beaches. These lagoons provide a safe venue for all sorts of recreational water sports. Available on the beaches from hotel concessionaires are kayaks, wind surfers, outrigger canoes, banana boats, jet skis, water skis, parasailing rides, snorkeling equipment and the latest, kite surfing. Pole and net fishing from the shore are also permitted.
For the more adventurous, it’s easy to venture farther out and under the water. That’s because Guam is famous in SCUBA diving circles. A variety of dive shops offer instruction leading to PADI certification, rent and sell equipment and, of course, provide facilities for a variety of dive experiences.
“Guam is one of the top 10 diving locations in the world,” say an Australian couple who own a tropical dive station. “The visibility is also better than in most places in the world. You can see 150 feet and the waters are warm.” Close off shore or even in the harbors are submerged wrecks. “In many dive areas in the Caribbean or elsewhere, you have to go out for an hour or 90 minutes to reach a good location. Here in 30 or 45 minutes you’re at the edge of the Marianas Trench, the deepest point on the planet.”
From spots such as the Agana Marina, charter boat skippers are available to take visitors out for serious deep-sea fishing. Only on Guam, going after wahoo, maiko, yellow fin tuna and even blue marlin doesn’t require an all-day trip. “We put our lines into the water a mile or two out,” says one skipper. “Back on the mainland, you sometimes need to go 40 or 50 miles out to reach deep water. Not here.” As one result, he makes two or three three-hour fishing excursions aboard his 31-foot boat every day.
Guam is so compact that a visitor can easily tour the entire island by rental car in a day, seeking out and finding as much or as little action as she or he might want. In no more than twenty minutes or so you can go from the bustling Tumon Bay area with its luxury hotels, upscale shops and restaurants and be at the Guam National Wildlife Refuge, Ritidian Unit, at the northern tip of the island.
Here beneath a towering limestone cliff is a dense, tropical jungle that extends down to a narrow sand beach. The coral reef at this point is just a matter of a few yards off shore. Hike back into the limestone cliff area and ancient pictographs cut into the rocks are to be found. A narrow dirt road provides access into the park but hiking trails provide an opportunity to immerse yourself into a verdant world of ferns, plants, palms and other lush tropical growth.
Guam is, of course, an unincorporated U.S. Territory. The local economy is based on the U.S. currency. For visitors from Hawaii or the mainland U.S., the island has a conventional U.S. telephone area code (671) and domestic U.S. phone rates apply instead of costly international rates. Postage rates are the same as if you were on the mainland. Asian visitors love to shop using U.S. dollars and find imported luxury goods in Guam’s shops to be far less costly than back home. And there’s no sales tax, either.
Norman Sklarewitz brings to his travel articles for The World & I a long and solid
background in hard-news reporting. This includes being Far East Correspondent
for The Wall Street Journal based in Tokyo and L.A. Bureau Chief with U.S. News &
World Report. He's reported on major international events, including the Vietnam
War, and during World War II, he was a military correspondent. As a freelancer, he
has traveled extensively and has published thousands of articles on a wide range
of topics for a variety of publications.