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An interview with Pilar Laguana: Introducing the island of Guam to China

By Jiang Wanjuan ( chinadaily.com.cn ) Updated: 2015-04-21 16:18:16

An interview with Pilar Laguana: Introducing the island of Guam to China

Pilar Laguana. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Pilar Laguana is the marketing manager with the Guam Visitors Bureau. She is a Chamorro, the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands, born in Guam, the closest US destination to China in the Pacific Ocean. During a recent promotional event in Beijing, she was more than excited to introduce her hometown to the Chinese people.

How do you usually introduce the island of Guam to people who haven't been there?

Guam is the closest US destination to China, and we are conveniently located in the Pacific Ocean in the regional area of Micronesia. Micronesia has many islands and Guam is the largest. We have a very small population of 160,000 people, and we are only 213 square miles, the same size almost as Singapore, but not as populated.

Last year, we welcomed 1.3 million visitors. Tourism is our number one industry. We have various travel products the Chinese people will love. There are so many things to do, and so much beautiful natural scenery. Marine life is tremendously healthy. We have five marine preserves that will offer tourists a chance to explore and discover rich marine life. Driving is also easy. You can rent a car and drive around the island.

What are the typical local people like?

Chamorro people are very hospitable and friendly. We are not formal people, we are a very island-casual and relaxed people. I am a local girl, and I would like to say that when Chinese people come to Guam, the best gift you can give to yourself is meeting the local people. Chamorro people are very deeply rooted in traditions and respect of our families. On weekends and when we invite guests, we always like to have barbecues and parties. We work very hard but we play harder. We are not a big destination, but we are very proud to show our island to the world.

What are the languages spoken in Guam?

We have two official languages: English and Chamorro.

What about the food?

Chamorro people love to share and the first thing we would love to share is our food. Our food is a mixture of our culture and heritage from many influences, starting with the 333 years of Spanish history. Then we also have influence from the Japanese from the World War II, and then the western influence from the US. On Guam, Chinese people can find many types of food, including Chinese food.

Since Guam is a US territory, do Chinese passport holders need a US visa to visit Guam?

Yes. But I am happy that Chinese passport holders can now get a 10-year US visa.

What are the ways to get to Guam from China?

There are non-stop flights to Guam from Shanghai, twice a week. There are frequent flights from Beijing to Guam via Hong Kong and Inchon. Last year, Dynamic Airways did direct scheduled charters from Beijing. The charters have stopped but they are going to start new charters again in June out of Tianjin, Hangzhou and Nanjing.

How many Chinese people visited Guam in recent years? How many more do you expect?

When we first started our effort in China, we only had 6,000 Chinese visitors back in 2012. Then, we had 14,000 in 2013, and 16,000 last year. This year, the number may surpass 20,000. We had 1.3 million visitors in total last year, and our No. 1 market is Japan, because we are only three hours away from Japan, and then South Korea, which is our second market.

Compared with the much more accessible islands in Southeast Asia and the better-known Hawaii, what are the selling points of Guam?

Compared with Hawaii, we are much closer and you won't have jet lag. We are also not as crowded as Hawaii. We are tax-free. Shopping on Guam is phenomenal and you will feel you'll get a good bargain. We have high-end luxury goods at substantially lower prices and a wide arrange of American products, from baby milk, clothes and toys to educational reading materials, all tax-free. We also have a large menu of optional tours, such as sea walking and scuba diving.

How is the island getting ready to receive Chinese tourists?

Although we have a lot to learn, I am proud of our industry for being China ready today. We have been receiving Chinese visitors for many years, although in small numbers. We have Chinese restaurants, staffed by Chinese. We have Chinese-speaking staff in our hotels, as well as Chinese- speaking staff at the retailers' level. The Guam Visitors' Bureau has offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Guangzhou. We are prepared to learn and to serve the Chinese visitors.

How is the Guam Visitors' Bureau promoting the island among the Chinese? What are its future plans?

We are taking opportunities to educate the travel industry on how to sell Guam and what we can offer. We help them to create many different packages for Chinese consumers. We also work with the airlines to be successful with their service, because the more successful the air service, the more air service we can have out of China to Guam, and that is exciting. We are also creating signature events to give the travel agencies reasons, projects and programs to develop packages. For example, we are going to have a Guam Micronesia Island Fair next month, so we can invite Chinese tourists to come and enjoy one of our most colorful celebrations of our culture.

What is the best time to visit Guam?

Almost every time is best. Guam has various markets, like Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. Each country has their traditional holidays, so our high season is dependent on that. I think out of 12 months, three months are the high season, and the rest of time we want more business.

Anything else you want to add?

Yes. Guam will be hosting the 12th Festival of Pacific Arts in 2016, which happens once every four years. It is the Olympics of cultural celebration encompassing 27 Pacific Island nations. Guam will play host to all the members from May 22 to June 4. So I really want Chinese tourists to take full advantage of that to enjoy the cultures of the 27 countries in the Pacific!

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