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North Korean tensions aren't deterring tourists from Guam

| Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017, 5:00 p.m.
A rainbow appears over Tumon Bay, Guam Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017. Residents of the U.S. Pacific island territory of Guam face a missile threat from North Korea.
A rainbow appears over Tumon Bay, Guam Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017. Residents of the U.S. Pacific island territory of Guam face a missile threat from North Korea.
A tourist standing before the sea on a beach at Tumon Bay in Guam.
AFP/Getty Images
A tourist standing before the sea on a beach at Tumon Bay in Guam.

HAGATNA, Guam — Tourists haven't been deterred from visiting the tropical island of Guam even though the U.S. territory has been at the center of North Korean and U.S. threats during the past week.

Won Hyung-jin, an official from Modetour, a large South Korean travel agency, said several customers called with concerns, but they weren't worried enough to pay cancellation fees for their trips.

"It seems North Korea racks up tension once or twice every year, and travelers have become insensitive about it," Won said. His company has sent about 5,000 travelers to Guam a month this year, mostly on package tours.

The U.S. territory has a population of 160,000, but it attracted 1.5 million visitors last year. One third of Guam's jobs are in the tourism industry.

Guam is a key outpost for the U.S. military, which uses it as a base for bombers and submarines.

The island's sandy beaches and aquamarine waters also make it a popular getaway for travelers from Japan and South Korea. Guam is only about three hours by plane from major cities in both countries.

The number of South Korean travelers in particular has been growing lately because five low-cost airlines started flying to Guam from South Korea, said Antonio Muna, the vice president of Guam Visitors Bureau. This helped boost arrival figures to a 20-year-high in July, Muna said.

The threats came in a week in which longstanding tensions between the countries risked abruptly boiling over. New United Nations sanctions condemning the North's rapidly developing nuclear program drew fresh ire and threats from Pyongyang. President Trump responded by vowing to rain down "fire and fury" if challenged. The North then threatened to lob missiles near Guam.

The Guam Visitors Bureau has heard reports of cancellations, but Muna said it doesn't yet have any concrete figures on how many took place. Officials are still expecting a strong August, Muna said.

"Japan and Korea make over 90 percent of our arrivals. And they're much closer to North Korea than Guam is," Muna said.

The agency has been relaying assurances from the governor and defense officials that Guam is protected and safe, he said.

"We invite and encourage them to continue their plans for travel to Guam. We are safe and protected, and we hope to host them here when they come for their vacation," Muna said.

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