The recent escalation in threats from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea against Guam worries Chinese tourists looking to get a taste of America relatively close to home.
Five hours from China by air, Guam is a 210-square-mile sovereign US island territory in the western Pacific. It’s also the closest US territory to the Chinese mainland.
Guam’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism. The island counted more than 1.5 million visitors at the end of fiscal 2016, surpassing 2015’s numbers by 126,360, according to the Guam Visitors Bureau.
Benefiting from the 10-year US multi-entry visa policy, Guam is seeing an increase in traffic from China.
Last year, Guam welcomed more than 26,000 visitors from the Chinese mainland, up 11.4 percent from the previous year.
“I’ve been to Guam three times with my family and we plan to visit again this October,” said Louis Huang, a Chinese student at Braunschweig University of Technology in Germany. “I’ve heard about the threat from North Korea and my family is very concerned.”
Huang said if the situation doesn’t get better by October, he will change his plans to visit again and cancel his flight.
“We might lose some money, but safety is our primary concern,” Huang added.
Jon Nathan Denight, head of the Guam Visitors Bureau, issued a statement on Wednesday calling on tourists not to cancel their travel plans to Guam.
“We invite you to continue your plans for travel to Guam – the safe and satisfying world-class destination of choice for you and your families,” Denight said in a written statement.
The Guam bureau now is also working with airlines to offer more convenient flight choices.
United Airlines operates direct flights between Shanghai and Guam twice a week. The airline also has direct flights from Hong Kong and has offered charter flights from Beijing during the Spring Festival holiday. Hong Kong Express flies four times a week directly to Guam.
“As soon as the news came out, there has been an island-wide level of concern,” Bobby Shringi, chairman of the Guam chamber of commerce, told the Guam Daily Post on Thursday. “Personally speaking, the greatest impact may just have been to our tourism industry – specifically for our tourists who have scheduled a trip to Guam.”
Guam Governor Eddie Calvo in an interview with Reuters on the island on Thursday dismissed the DPRK’s statement that it will develop a plan by mid-August to launch missiles at the US Pacific territory as coming from “a position of fear”, and said there was no heightened threat.
DPRK’s state media said earlier that, under the plan to be presented to leader Kim Jong Un, four intermediate-range missiles would be fired into waters 18-25 miles from Guam “to signal a crucial warning to the United States”.
“They like to be unpredictable,” Calvo said. “They’ll pop a missile off when no one is ready and they’ve done it quite a few times.
“They’re now telegraphing their punch, which means they don’t want to have any misunderstandings. I think that’s a position of fear.”
He said there was some concern among the public on Guam but no panic, and the authorities were “very confident” that there was no heightened threat in spite of the warnings from DPRK, which were first made on Wednesday.
Guam is about 2,000 miles from Pyongyang.
Reuters contributed to this story.