The travel bubble between Palau and Taiwan may not be picking up as fast as industry stakeholders had hoped, but "it's better than nothing," Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr said.
Since reopening its border to Taiwanese tourists on April 1, Palau has welcomed 300 visitors, lower than initially anticipated. "It's very slow, but 300 is better than zero," Whipps said in an interview.
Due to the stringent travel requirements and prohibitive travel costs, most Taiwanese are putting off their travel plans.
"It's expensive on both ends and it creates a lot of challenges," Whipps said. "We continue to work with Taiwan to reduce travel cost and requirements on both sides so that traveling becomes easier and more comfortable."
On the second week of the travel bubble's launch last month, China Airlines canceled its April 17 flight to Koror due to low demand.
The China News Agency 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.
Whipps earlier acknowledged that $3,000 might be too exorbitant to entice Taiwanese travelers to catch the sun in the Pacific island nation.
The Travel Agent Association of the Republic of China has attributed the low demand to the stringent travel rules imposed by Taiwan on returning travelers.
Palau, which promptly walled up its borders at the onset of the pandemic, remains Covid-free.
Heavily dependent on tourism with 20 percent of all its workers employed in the tourism industry, Palau attracted 90,000 foreign visitors in fiscal year 2019, with the tourism industry contributing 20 percent to gross domestic product.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Palau’s fiscal year 2020 first-quarter tourism numbers were projected to grow more than 30 percent and estimated to attract 116,000 visitors for the year.
The latest projection by the Graduate School USA’s Economic Monitoring and Analysis Program (EconMap) released last summer predicted that Palau would experience a 51 percent reduction of tourists, with a total expected of about 44,075 visitors, and a further 89 percent reduction in fiscal year 2021.
"Overall, Palau is expected to experience a 22.3 percent decline in GDP and a loss of 3,128 jobs, primarily in the private sector," EconMap said.