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The Russian tourist

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A closer look at Guam’s emerging new market

IMAGINE Far East Russia, a region more than two-thirds the size of the United States, cold during the winter months of heavy snowfall and the occasional strong easterly wind.

Far East Russia encompasses part of the northernmost region of Eurasia between Lake Baikal in Eastern Siberian and the Pacific Ocean. Major cities include Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Komsomolsk-on-Amur, and Yakutsk.

About 99 percent of the Russian tourists visiting Guam since the Russia visa waiver was approved last year are from Far East Russia. They seek sun, beaches, and relaxation.

From 2011 to 2012, the number of Russian tourists visiting Guam increased by more than 300 percent. According to visitor numbers in April, arrivals from Russia were up by 63 percent.

The numbers

According to the Guam Visitors Bureau’s Russia Visitor Tracker Exit Profile FY2013 first quarter report, the average overall expenditure of Russian tourists was $5,516.10, with the average per person expenditure at $2,746.96.

The exit poll, conducted by QMark Research, surveyed a random sample of 150 Russian tourists.

Guam is marketed as a high-end family destination. Survey showed 73 percent traveled to Guam with their family, while 19 percent traveled with a friend and 16 percent traveled alone.

The exit survey shows that 43 of the 150 surveyed had children, and of those who were visiting with children, 51 percent of those children were between 3 to 6 years old.

The vacation experience

“For them it’s a very easy destination; it’s a very user-friendly destination. The culture’s a little bit different and yet it’s very comfortable,” said Bart Jackson, chairperson of the Committee on Russia and New Markets for GVB.

Tourists Nadezda Vetric, Natalia Bochkaryova and Natalia Shalina came to Guam for various reasons, with relaxation and the beach as the main attractions.

Vetric, who is visiting Guam from Komsomolsk-on-Amur from May 5 to 19, told Variety through a translator that she came to Guam to try something new and to open herself to America.

She is enjoying the shopping experience, the beaches, and apparently being away from fellow Russians. “When more Russians come, poor Guam,” she said in jest.

Visiting from Khabarovsk from May 5 to 19, Bochkaryova said that in addition to the relaxing ambiance that Guam offers, the island’s unique culture interests her.

Shalina, from Kostroma, arrived on May 7 and is staying on Guam until May 17. She came to Guam because she wanted to visit an American island.

During their stay, the three said they feel safe on Guam and were relieved that they don’t encounter vendors approaching them and pushing their crafts or products – a scene typical in Asian destinations.

The Russia vacation experience on Guam is different from the typical Asia vacation experience.

Visitors from Japan, Korea and Taiwan make up a majority of Guam’s tourist market.

Russian tourists have to take long flights to Guam because there are no direct routes to the island.

A majority come to Guam through Seoul, Korea or Narita, Japan.

Unlike Asians, who typically stay for two or three days, Russian tourists stay for about two weeks.

“The typical Asian traveler will come in and they are busy the whole time. They’re jet skiing, they’re shopping, or they’re on a dolphin cruise. But Russians don’t want to vacation that way. They want to vacation like Europeans and Americans do. They want to go somewhere and relax,” Jackson said.

The average Russian tourists would prefer to spend time relaxing undisturbed on the beach or participating in the typical tour attractions at a leisurely pace.

Since Russian tourists stay longer, the Tumon attractions will all be explored within the first week or less.

Instead they may rent a car and explore the rest of the island, visit more out-of-the-way restaurants, and spend money in other shops.

The Russian vacation experience is also different in the way it is organized. Traditional travelers’ itinerary and arrangements are made by the same travel agents or organizations that book their flights.

The Russian travelers are assisted by Guam-based ground handlers, who book the hotels, make travel arrangements, and arrange airport pickup.

The ground handlers brief the Russian clients, advising them what they can do while on Guam, what to avoid, how to have a good experience, and how to stay out of trouble.

The ground handler is available 24/7 and offers translation services.

“They are an essential part of what’s going on because the hotels don’t have Russian speakers. If they do, they only have one or two and don’t have coverage 24 hours, which is what you need,” Jackson said.

Despite the influx of Russian tourists, the market still remains only a fraction of Guam’s tourist population.

GVB is continuing its efforts to market Guam by attending travel expos and networking with travel agents.

“Moving forward, we’re going to keep that going, but we’re going to begin to do more to go direct to the consumer,” Jackson said.

However, the industry doesn’t expect to see the Russian market grow as big as the Asian market anytime soon. The population of Far East Russia is spread wide, and others may find other closer and more convenient destinations.

“We’re never going to be full of Russians. I just don’t see it,” Jackson said, adding he does not anticipate more than 50,000 arrivals. But because of their extended stay, Russians will still make a considerable contribution to the economy.

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