Korea planning ‘travel bubbles’ with Guam and Saipan

Jeju Airlines (Photo courtesy of Jeju Air)

The Korea Herald is reporting that South Korea is planning to create “travel bubbles” between Korea and Guam and Saipan.

This comes as Korea’s vaccination rate continues to increase and the country strives to normalize travel as it reaches its target herd immunity by November.

The Korea Herald cites the South Korean Transport Ministry’s announcement that only group tours will be allowed at the beginning, with one or two flights flying a week, carrying up to some 200 passengers once a travel bubble is formed, with plans to extend the scale of the travel scheme later.

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.”

Aside from Guam and Saipan, the Korean government is also discussing travel bubbles with countries that have been relatively successful in containing COVID-19.

According to the South Korean business publication Pulse, the Korean government has already been in talks with Singapore and Taiwan to sign travel partnerships and plans to add locations like Thailand, Guam, and Saipan.

But with the virus on the rise again in Taiwan, the Korean government is more likely to approve travel bubbles with Guam, Saipan, and Singapore first, the Herald reported.

“Movement between countries has been restricted for too long, dealing a severe blow to the aviation and travel industries with so many people wanting to travel abroad again,” the Korea Herald quoted Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum as saying in a meeting Wednesday.

“Resuming international travel will mark the beginning of life going back to normal,” he said.

Though people who have got fully vaccinated in Korea are allowed to travel abroad and come back without facing quarantine, travel bubbles will give the same privilege to anyone vaccinated in travel bubble partner countries regardless of their nationality.

This would be good news to the sizable Korean community on Guam whose fully vaccinated members can now more freely travel to South Korea.

The Guam Visitors Bureau has long identified the South Korean market as the primary market that is most likely to recover first and engage in tourism travel to Guam because of its control over the COVID-19 virus and its high vaccination rate.

And fully vaccinated South Korean tourists may be allowed to travel to Guam soon after Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero authorized the recognition of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, which is the vaccine used by 60 percent of Korea’s population.

Just recently, the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), the national public broadcaster of South Korea, reported that South Korean airlines are planning to resume flights overseas starting with tourist destinations like Guam and Saipan this summer.

Citing “industry sources,” KBS reported that Jeju Air will begin service from Incheon to Guam and Saipan soon and fix future schedules based on market demand.

This confirms the announcement made during the last GVB board meeting that Jeju Air wants to resume flights to Guam.

But the KBS report goes further and states that aside from Jeju Air, Asiana Airlines also plans to service the Incheon-Guam route starting next month.

KBS also reports that Korean Air has started selling November tickets for the Incheon-Guam route while Jin Air is currently carrying passengers to and from Guam once a week.