Guam tourism sees silver lining in North Korean threats
Tourists walk along a shopping area in the city of Tamuning on the island of Guam. (Virgilio Valencia/AFP)
Published Saturday, August 12, 2017 8:21AM EDT
Pyongyang's threats to launch four missile strikes near the US territory has stirred global curiosity in the remote Pacific destination, with it trending heavily on search engines as social media users wondered, "what is Guam?"
Although Guam hosts two U.S. military installations and 6,000 U.S. soldiers, making it the target of North Korea's wrath, tourism authorities are keen to dispel any impression of danger to the tranquil island and its secluded beaches.
"The circumstance are unfortunate but this is a good opportunity for us to educate the world about Guam and our culture, about where we are, and who we are," said Josh Tyquiengco, marketing director at Guam Visitors Bureau, the official agency for the island.
"Guam is more than a military base. We are a safe family destination. We reassure potential visitors that we continue to be a safe... place to visit," Tyquiengco told AFP Friday.
Despite North Korea's threats to prepare plans within days that would surround Guam with "enveloping fire", fears of a potential attack have not deterred tourists from visiting Guam, he said.
"We heard about a few booking cancellations from South Korea, but it's too minimal to affect the industry," he said.
As aircraft after aircraft -- packed with tourists -- landed Friday at Guam's international airport, the latest visitors to the island appeared untroubled by the prospect of missile strikes.
Sun Doojin, who arrived with her husband and two-year-old daughter on a flight from Seoul, responded with an emphatic "no" when asked if she was concerned about an attack during her visit.
The Guam Daily Post, in an editorial, said the spotlight on the territory offered an opportunity to show the world why an island of 162,000 people draws more than 1.5 million tourists a year.
"The beach waters are crystal clear, beaches aren't overrun, and nature hiking trails are very accessible.
"The different cultures that are showcased on the island through food, make Guam a hidden gem, a tropical vacation getaway but with the amenities and comforts of some of the small cities stateside."
Guam's history of earthquakes and typhoons mean its infrastructure is built to robust standards and authorities insist that the island is prepared for any emergency, including a North Korean strike.
Homeland Security spokeswoman Jenna Gaminde told the Guam Daily News that in the event of an attack, residents would be immediately notified by sirens from the All-Hazards Alert Warning System located throughout the island.
"If you hear the sirens, tune into local media -- radio, print, television -- for further instructions," she said.
Pyongyang has said it would take less than 18 minutes for a missile to cross the 3,400-kilometre (2,100 miles) distance to the US territory.
In addition to the US military bases, Guam is also equipped with the sophisticated THAAD weapons system which is capable of destroying intermediate-range missiles in the final phase of flight.
Officials, however, have sought to brush off fears and say there has been no change in the threat level for now.
"I don't think there's anything to worry about. No missile is going to land on Guam," said Carl Peterson, who serves on the Guam Chamber of Commerce's armed forces committee.
"We've got defense mechanisms in place... they have the ability to seek out the missiles with kinetic energy and destroy it."