The Guam Visitors Bureau is poised to receive $20 million from the anticipated $661 million that the local government will receive from the American Rescue Plan.
The House and Senate approved the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package and President Joe Biden looks forward to signing it into law this week, according to the White House.
The funds will help fill GVB’s funding shortfall and is necessary to help with efforts to prepare the island’s reopening to visitors, GVB President Carl Gutierrez told GVB board members on Thursday. The governor has said May 1 is the target date to reopen.
Gutierrez said GVB’s status as a 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization was a concern in terms of receiving federal stimulus funding.
“It was assured by the request of Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero to Del. Michael San Nicolas to make sure that … she is not prohibited from giving us funds to … aggressively market Guam when we open up,” he said. “That (bill) passed Congress last night and hopefully by Saturday morning it would become law and maybe in two weeks the governor will receive the $661 million, and she has committed to giving us $20 million of that.
“So this is really a good thing for GVB to look forward to. It’s not just a pie-in-the-sky dream – the bill will be law by Saturday and hopefully we can have our $20 million to shore our finances while we wait on our tourists to come in,” Gutierrez said.
In further discussion with the governor, Gutierrez said the agency may also receive an additional $18 million to make safety upgrades to Matapang Beach Park.
“For the last several months, if not more than (that), the Destination Management Committee has been pushing for this upgrade at Matapang Beach, which is not just for the tourists but certainly, it’s a park for the people of Guam,” he said.
Gutierrez said the Guam Fire Department also has been “urging” them to build a facility where they can store jet skis and safety equipment.
“I begged the governor to please not have this thing delayed simply because the (U.S. Economic Development Administration) grant process might take another year or two years. So I pleaded with her to set aside $18 million from that $661 million and channel the EDA grant to something that is not as urgent as Matapang Beach,” Gutierrez said. “She was amendable – she’s going to talk to her people; she’s going to talk to the (Department of Public Works) and (Guam Economic Development Agency).”
Electronic form for travelers
As part of preparations to reopen the island to tourists, GVB has created an electronic declarations form. Officials said the form will help streamline the arrivals process and provide a secure, touchless experience for incoming passengers.
The form will take the place of the paper documents typically passed out to passengers on the plane, which they then fill out and submit to Guam Customs and Quarantine Agency officers at the airport.
The electronic version of the declaration forms will be available online on March 25. Passengers coming to Guam can complete the form as early as three days prior to their flight to Guam.
Once the forms are completed, the program will generate a QR code, which passengers can save on their mobile devices and present to Customs.
Nico Fujikawa, of GVB, said they are meeting with airlines today to share information about the program.
“We started back in October. We met with the governor and said we’re trying to make a touchless experience that’s safer for all travelers, residents … and she jumped on board with the project and supported us with funding,” Fujikawa said, adding in response to questions that the forms are available in three different languages.
The forms also will be available at kiosks that will be placed at the airport, he said. This will allow Customs officials to prep for flights that have more passengers.
Fujikawa told board members that the new form also will help save money in terms of printing the documents. It also will make it easier for GVB to collect and then analyze arrivals data.
GVB worked with the Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association, Guam International Airport Authority, the Surgeon Cell, Department of Public Health and Social Services, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create the forms so passengers won’t have to provide the same information on multiple forms.
DPHSS and local Customs officials will be able to access the information pertinent to their missions from the same QR code, Fujikawa said.