Travel agencies bemoan poor sales due to Taiwan-Palau 'bubble' rules
Taipei, March 31 (CNA) Travel agencies in Taiwan said Wednesday that sales of tour packages under a "travel bubble" arrangement with Palau have been slower than expected due to the complicated COVID-19 prevention regulations.
According to the six Taiwanese travel agencies offering the group tours to Palau, their first tours, after the travel bubble takes effect Thursday, are fully booked, but beyond that the bookings are currently under 50 percent.
The main factors contributing to the poor sales are the high cost of the tour packages, the relatively late announcement of the travel bubble launch date, and the complicated restrictions and quarantine procedures under the program, according to Yu Kuo-chen (游國珍), spokesperson for one of Taiwan's largest travel agencies Lion Travel.
The price listings on the websites of the six travel agencies show that a four-day trip to Palau can cost as much as NT$80,000 (US$2,777) under the new program, almost double the price before the COVID-19 pandemic.
People are also having second thoughts because of the relevant regulations, which require travelers to be tested for COVID-19 before departure to Palau and upon return to Taiwan, according to Yu.
Furthermore, although the travel bubble waives quarantine upon arrival in Palau and on return to Taiwan, travelers will be required to observe "enhanced" self-health management for the first five days after they return to Taiwan, and they will be restricted from participating in public gatherings or group dining for an additional nine days, he said.
The Taiwan-Palau travel bubble was announced on March 17, two weeks before the launch date, and since then some of the six participating travel agencies have dropped the prices of their group tour packages to around NT$40,000, due to poor sales.
According to the Tourism Bureau, 96 passengers are booked to take the inaugural flight from Taiwan to Palau Thursday afternoon.
The China Airlines (CAL) flight will depart from Taoyuan International Airport at 2:30 p.m. and is scheduled to arrive in Palau at 7:30 p.m. local time.
Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr., who is currently in Taiwan on a five-day visit, will take the CAL flight home on Thursday.
On Wednesday, Whipps and Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) visited the southern cities of Tainan and Kaohsiung, where they toured an aquaculture company and a shipbuilding firm and discussed possible bilateral cooperation in those fields.
In Kaohsiung, Whipps met with Mayor Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) and invited him to visit Palau.
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