Guam-Taiwan ‘travel bubble’ talks begin

The Guam, Taiwan, and US flags are shown together signifying the closer relations between Taiwan and Guam and the US. (PNC file photo)

Taiwanese media is reporting that the island state’s tourism bureau has begun talks about a possible travel “bubble” between Guam and Taiwan.

The International Air Transport Association defines a travel bubble as “a state-level agreement that enables international air travel between two or more countries based on a mutually agreed set of public health mitigation measures.”

Focus Taiwan, citing the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, reported that Taiwan and Guam are set to enter talks about the possibility of establishing a travel bubble, just like a similar initiative between Taiwan and Palau.

The travel bubble between Palau and Taiwan was inaugurated on Thursday. A sold-out China Air flight landed in Palau at around 7:30 pm Thursday night carrying around 100 tourists from Taiwan. Aboard the flight was Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. who returned to Palau following a state visit to Taiwan.

Under the Palau-Taiwan travel bubble, passengers are restricted to Taiwanese passport holders who have been tested and cleared before boarding the plane in Taiwan. Initially, there will be two scheduled flights out of Taiwan to Palau per week as part of the travel bubble but that could expand to more flights in the future.

According to the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, the government of Guam was the one that requested a travel bubble although the Taiwan government has also expressed its desire to have closer relations with Guam. The two governments have become even closer with the opening of the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office on Guam.

The Guam Visitors Bureau had long been planning for a travel bubble with Taiwan. Unfortunately, the virus spiked last year on Guam, and GVB had to abandon the travel bubble concept as Adelup sealed the island anew from off-island travel. But with Guam now containing the virus and successfully bringing COVID-19 infections down, the travel bubble concept is again being explored.

GVB President Carl Gutierrez has especially been an advocate of the travel bubble as well as increased trade, investment, education, and medical ties between Guam and Taiwan. The former governor is in close and constant contact with the Taiwan government and the TECO office here.

Taiwan was one of the first countries that GVB wanted to have a travel bubble with last year because of all Guam’s tourism markets, Taiwan had the lowest number of COVID-19 infections and it had the best systems in place to contain the virus.

According to Gutierrez, Taiwan is most likely the first market that can provide tourists to Guam because it has not been too adversely affected by COVID-21 and it early on established protocols that protected it from COVID-19, drawing from its lessons from the SARS epidemic.

Taiwan was also one of Guam’s regular sources of tourists before the pandemic hit and GVB believes Taiwan will be the tourism market that recovers soonest because of its success in mitigating the COVID-19 virus.

Gutierrez said the Guam International Airport Authority and the Guam Economic Development Authority are joining GVB in looking at ways by which stronger economic ties with Taiwan can be attained.

Governor Lou Leon Guerrero herself was supposed to lead a trade, tourism, and investment delegation to Taiwan. That has since been postponed but not entirely canceled and GVB says that the visit may push through by the third quarter of this year.

“During our meeting, the governor said she really wants to visit Taiwan and its cities, especially Taichung where the China Medical University Medical hospital is,” Gutierrez said during a GVB board meeting.

He added that the Taiwanese people are especially itching to travel abroad again, especially to Guam, which is just about four hours away.

“Taiwanese tourists are eager to travel to Guam because of their love for the island’s clear, blue waters. Taiwan is really looking to have their people flying somewhere because they’re kind of amped up. And Guam is one of the best places where they can travel, with our CAR score now down,” the GVB president said.

Another Taiwan agency that is pushing for the travel bubble with Guam is the Taiwan Ministry of Transportation.

According to Radio Taiwan International, Taiwan Transport Minister Lin Chia-lung confirmed that talks with Guam over a potential opening of a travel bubble with Taiwan are already ongoing.

RTI cited Transport Minister Lin as saying that Taiwan has begun “intensive” talks with Guam through local Taiwanese representatives although an agreement has yet to be reached.

Guam is well on its way to receiving overseas travelers again by May 1 once GovGuam reaches its target of having 50 percent of the adult population vaccinated through its “Path to Half” initiative.

If a travel bubble materializes between Taiwan and Guam, GVB said in earlier board meetings that Taiwanese carriers EVA Air and China Airlines are ready to transport tourists to Guam.

A new Taiwanese carrier, Starlux Airlines, has also applied to service the Taiwan-Guam route.