The Guam Visitors Bureau’s focus on diversifying the tourism market — ensuring a greater stability for the island — has worked. Even as other economies in the Asia Pacific region are struggling, the island continues to see record highs in tourism. That has meant more money coming into Guam and more opportunities for our people.
In the last five years, GVB has driven a 70 percent increase in the Tourism Attraction Fund, from $22 million to $38 million.
While the GVB board is determined to maintain this focus in Fiscal 2016, their efforts are hampered by 13 senators.
The Vice Speaker’s FY2016 budget cuts GVB’s budget request by more than $4 million. Over $2.5 million of that money would have paid for needed safety and capital improvement projects in Tumon and provided funding for the Festival of the Pacific Arts, which is drawing thousands of artists and festival followers to Guam from all over the Pacific Asia region next year.
This isn’t the first time GVB’s funding has been shorted. In the current fiscal year, senators cut $1 million in capital improvements, most of which were safety oriented that that could have been corrected in the FY2016 budget. These projects included installing lights and improving the safety of the Tumon hill going up to JFK High School and Kmart where our visitors and residents have been robbed and mugged, damaging our island’s reputation and putting our economic future in jeopardy.
Even after senators failed to fund last year’s requests, the TAF exceeded projections and created an $8 million surplus. But rather than reinstating needed funding for safety, Senators ignored GVB’s request and appropriated that money to pet projects unrelated to tourism. At yesterday’s GVB board meeting, GVB Board Chairman Mark Baldyga called the situation “extremely frustrating.”
During this year’s budget hearing, GVB explained it had used its own reserves last year after GVB funding requests were shorted: “We spent $2 million more last year than the budget and the year before using our own reserve funds, including using $1 million for airline incentives to get the China direct service going. And it worked. They are still flying from China with the incentives over. Those reserves are now mostly gone.”
The agency has made it work before, but the Legislature’s disregard for the request this year cannot be ignored, and senators need to listen to GVB’s concerns.
We’ve yet to hear how Sen. Tom Ada will address the shortfalls in the DPW budget. Sen. Tom Ada was one of the 13 senators who voted to pass the Fiscal 2016 budget bill introduced by the Vice Speaker BJ Cruz and supported as a fiscally prudent legislation by Sen. San Nicolas, finance chairman.
We look forward to the solutions they, along with Sen. Tina Muna Barnes, and the remaining senators who passed this defective legislation, will offer to help ensure government operations are able to keep the island moving forward. Muna Barnes is the chairwoman of the Legislature’s tourism committee.
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