It launched with a presidential escort and the promise of rare international travel to a postcard-perfect tropical island, but the travel bubble between Taiwan and Palau deflated after just a couple of weeks, and Taiwanese bookings dipped to single figures.
Travel agents, consumers and health authorities have blamed the high cost of tours and the Taiwanese government’s strict rules for returning travelers.
The “sterile corridor” of bilateral tourism guaranteed travel between the two archipelagos, which are otherwise closed to all tourists, in tour packages administered strictly twice a week.
The inaugural flight, with nearly 100 passengers, including Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr, boded well, but this week China Airlines announced that it had canceled an upcoming flight from Taipei after only two people booked tickets. The airline told The Guardian that it was constantly evaluating the situation, but could not guarantee further cancellations.
To go on vacation to Palau from Taiwan, tourists must make various health declarations, pay for Covid tests, and have not left Taiwan in the last six months. Upon their return, they had to complete 14 days of “self-management of health”, including five days of “improved” management prohibited in transport and public spaces. On Wednesday, health authorities announced they would remove the improved requirement and agencies hope it will be enough to restore interest.
One of the six agencies contracted to run the trips, Phoenix Travel, told the Guardian that they have had “sporadic” individual bookings and inquiries about future trips, “but the momentum is not as good as expected.”
“The higher-than-normal fee, plus the cost of two PCR tests, and the discomfort of managing health after returning home are the reasons why most travelers maintain a wait-and-see attitude. see what happens, “said the spokesman.
Taiwanese passengers pay between $ 2,100 and $ 2,800 plus associated costs for the group tour that lasts less than eight days, keeps tourists away from crowded places and locals, and does not allow autonomous activity.
On Wednesday night, Whipps welcomed the relaxation, saying that returnees who showed no signs of fever and had not been in the presence of anyone who did, could “go about their daily life as usual.”
Whipps also said costs had been reduced as well, but did not elaborate by how much. He claimed that the presence of Tropical Storm Surigae had also affected reserves, but that the two governments were working closely together to improve the bubble.
He said his office had been “assured” that the next flight scheduled for April 21 would have more passengers. The Guardian has contacted the Taiwanese government to confirm the changes and comment.
Palau has recorded zero Covid cases and is on track to have 80% of its population vaccinated by the summer, while around 90% of Taiwan’s 1,062 cases were newly arrived quarantined and there is no community transmission.
The travel bubble was hailed as a lifeline for Palau’s tourism industry, which contributes nearly half of its GDP, but has been completely stalled by the pandemic. Taiwanese made up the third largest proportion of tourists in the pre-Covid era, behind people from China and Japan.
“We seek everyone’s support and patience as we continue to address challenges and improve the sterile corridor. Challenges help us improve the customer experience and increase demand, ”said Whipps.
“During this difficult time, support from the private sector is increasingly important.”
Before Whipps’ statement, China Airlines told The Guardian that it was making “constant adjustments” and could not rule out further cancellations.