When it comes to cutting-edge conferences about the future of digital technology, places like Sun Valley or Monterey County’s Asilomar Conference Grounds likely spring to mind. One place that’s probably not yet on the radar? Guam, the U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean that’s still an up-and-coming destination for many North Americans. But the island, which is forecast to have more than 1.6 million tourist arrivals this year, is working to change that perception. This summer, the island hosted the first-of-its-kind digital tourism summit, the #InstaGuam Travel Talks, focused on building connections between local travel operators and global brands.
“The networking and educational opportunities will help accelerate our tourism economy and create new business opportunities for the inspiring young entrepreneurs on our island,” said Pedro “Sonny” Ada, the chairman of the board of directors of the Guam Visitors Bureau. “Our goal for Travel Talks is to develop a long-term platform for bringing innovative and cutting-edge technologies to Guam,” he added in his opening remarks for the full-day conference that gathered more than 400 attendees at the Dusit Thani Guam Resort.
“When I walked in this morning, I felt the excitement in the air,” said Governor Lourdes Leon Guerrero, while delivering introductory remarks at Travel Talks. “I felt the enthusiasm, I felt the busyness, I just felt really very positive. This is a great thing that’s happening in Guam.”
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That buoyant mood carried through to a series of presentations from local and international influencers who were visiting the island as part of the summit. More than a dozen creatives — including Sam Kolder, Mogu, and Chika Yoshida — presented their views on content marketing and the importance of destinations working with social media stars.
Those sessions gave way to an afternoon of discussions with numerous industry representatives, including speakers from Airbnb, Booking Holdings, Christina’s, Ctrip, Line Travel Japan, Naver, Skift, and United Airlines. Presenters from ZeroZero Robotics and Docomo Pacific also discussed how technology trends are impacting tourism globally.
Building a Hub for Tourism Innovation
For Guam Visitors Bureau, the event was both a way to showcase the destination as well as embrace innovation that can spur future economic development. “My biggest hope with this one-day summit is to provide the community with different opportunities to learn about the marketing platforms that we need to use,” said Pilar Laguaña, on stage during the conference. “Tourism is our lifeline industry here. It produces more than 21,000 jobs on the island.”
Other tourism leaders saw significant benefits from the event. While Guam has traditionally been seen as a sun-and-sand relaxation destination, said Lieutenant Governor Joshua Tenorio, in an interview with SkiftX, events like Travel Talks can improve the global perception of the destination. “There’s a demand and interest from travelers to delve in and experience different places on the island,” Tenorio said. “We’re very determined and very committed to making sure that we achieve this goal of introducing Guam into the world stage, while making sure that we do it the right way — to be relevant but responsible.”
While the primary goals were to spark conversation and bring attention to Guam’s tourism potential, officials said, there have already been promising discussions between attendees for future business. Airbnb is expanding its marketing efforts for hosts on the island; Booking.com added at least one additional Guam hotel to its platform; and Guam Visitors Bureau, Line Travel Japan, and United are collaborating on newly launched routes between the island and Nagoya, Japan. All those agreements and more resulted from the conference, organizers said.
Looking to the Future
Even more innovations are on the horizon. One of the day’s most intriguing presentations came not from a tour operator or distribution platform but from MQ Wang, the co-founder and CEO of Zero Zero Robotics. His company created the Hover 2 camera, an AI-powered drone that may one day make self-flying robots as ubiquitous as the selfie stick. “We’re designing it with the purpose that anyone can use it,” Wang said on stage. “We want to make it simple. We’re closing the distance between drones and the normal user.”
#instaGuam Travel Talks attendees visit the 5G Open Lab.
“Humankind is documenting this world at a pace that we’ve never seen before. There are billions of selfies out there,” Wang said. “People are using images to document our lives more than text because the information density is higher. We say a picture is worth 1,000 words — and it’s very, very true.”
That also presents a challenge for Zero Zero, whose paperback book–size drones generate huge amounts of digital information. During his visit to Guam, Wang said, he was keen to explore the island’s 5G Open Lab, where telecom firm Docomo Pacific is testing new applications. Because of Guam’s manageable size — about 210 square miles — and its connection to at least a dozen high-speed intercontinental submarine cables, it offers a unique test bed for companies that rely on massive amounts of data, whether their business is in the Internet of Things or other wireless-powered devices. The applications for travel could be limitless, Wang said, while hinting at augmented reality tours that the Hover 2 may soon be able to provide on Guam.
“It’s my hope that Travel Talks will help inspire young entrepreneurs and local businesses here in Guam to establish new partnerships with these travel and technology companies to drive top-line growth,” Laguaña said.
If venues like Sun Valley and even Davos can provide a backdrop for forward-thinking and visionary ideas about the future, why not Guam? “We’re gaining the attention of millions of people from all over the world and we need to build on that momentum,” Laguaña said. “In this age of technology, it is essential that we [harness tech] in a way that can benefit all of us.”
It was a theme that speakers returned to throughout the day: Guam offers a unique bridge between Asia and the United States. As the westernmost territory in the U.S., it operates under many of the same legal rules and regulations as the mainland, yet it’s less than five hours by air from Hong Kong, Manila, Seoul, Taipei, and Tokyo. “Our island has always been a staging place,” Tenorio said. “It’s very strategic on the military side. It’s very strategic now on the technology side.”