By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Palau-Taiwan travel bubble bursts; CAL cancels flight due to low demand
The much-ballyhooed travel bubble between Palau and Taiwan fell flat this week when China Airlines decided to cancel its weekend flight to Koror due to low demand.
The China News Agency (CNA) reported that only two people booked for the April 17 group tour despite CAL's move to slash the airfare for the travel bubble flights to Palau. CAL is one of Taiwan's major international carriers.
Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. earlier acknowledged that $3,000 might be too exorbitant to entice Taiwanese travelers to catch the sun in the Pacific island nation.
The Asia-Pacific's first travel bubble, otherwise known as "sterile corridor," debuted on April 1. The Taiwan media reported that the maiden flight carried 123 passengers, 23 of whom were members of a diplomatic delegation from Palau.
With an initial one-flight a week frequency, the travel arrangement between the two allied nations was touted to mutually jumpstart their tourism industries thumped down by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Quoting Hsiao Po-jen, head of the Travel Agent Association of the Republic of China, CNA attributed the low demand to the stringent travel rules imposed by Taiwan on returning travelers.
Palau officials said the impending storm in Taiwan may have also been a contributing factor that tempers the Tawainese's desire to travel.
In a statement, the Office of the President said Palau continues to work closely with Taiwan to improve the sterile corridor.
"This cancellation is partly due to several factors, including a low number of passengers because of Tropical Storm Surigae with expected rainfall and thunderstorms limiting activities tourists can participate in while in Palau, and stringent quarantine measures that the tourists must undergo upon returning to Taiwan," Palau officials said.
Palau, however, is confident the travel bubble will eventually pick up following changes to Taiwan's travel rules and ticket price cuts.
"Taiwan’s quarantine requirements have eased up," the Office of Palau President said. "Tourists who do not exhibit fever upon returning home, have not been in the presence of anyone who had a fever, or has been infected by the virus will be allowed to go about their daily lives as usual."
"China Airlines remains a committed partner in implementing the sterile corridor, and the Office of the President has been assured that the scheduled flight on Wednesday, April 21, 2021, will have more passengers," the statement reads.
Palau officials appealed for "everyone’s support and patience as we continue to address challenges and improve the sterile corridor."
"Challenges help us improve customer experience and increase demand. All parties involved in the Sterile Corridor remain committed to ensuring a truly authentic Palauan experience affordable to travelers," the statement said.
Palau and Taiwan have both made distinguishing marks in the world amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Palau promptly walled up at the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak last year and has since remained coronavirus-free. Taiwan has managed to promptly control the Covid-19 transmission before it got worse.
However, a survey in March indicated that Taiwanese were not too thrilled to travel too soon.
Despite the country's success in containing the pandemic, 67 percent of Taiwanese said they have no intention to travel abroad by the end of the year, according to a survey commissioned by Airbnb.
The survey found that only 18 percent of Taiwanese have plans to travel outside the country in 2021.