BY BERNADETTE H. CARREON
Palau Correspondent

President Surangel Whipps Jr.’s delegation, which included U.S. Ambassador to Palau John Hennessey-Niland, met with Taiwan President Tsai Zing-wen and Taiwanese officials.

KOROR, Palau — Palau opened its doors to the inaugural travel bubble flight with Taiwan on April 1, sparking hopes that the economy can be revitalized after an absence of tourism for a year.

President Surangel Whipps Jr. was in Taiwan for a four-day trip to promote the travel bubble, which officially started April 1.

The first flight on April 1 from Taiwan brought more than 100 tourists.

On March 30, Whipps in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Shin Kong Life Insurance Co’s headquarters in Taipei launched the ‘travel bubble” between Palau and Taiwan.

“In the beginning, there will be processes that we need to work out, but Palau is taking an ‘opening with care’ approach,” he said. “We trust that neither side has a community infection, but we are going to take extra precautions just to keep everybody safe. We will continue to do everything to ensure the safety of both countries.”

Whipps has also encouraged tTaiwanese to visit Palau and assured them that it will be safe and they will look into other technology to make the visit a great experience amid the pandemic.

“We will continue to look for technology to improve, but for now that is the process,” he said.

Whipps said the first flight was sold out and he is anticipating further development to bring tourists in succeeding flights.

 “I am also looking forward to many more flights from many more airlines. In the beginning, we said two flights per week. However, we need to make sure that we open the sky and let EVA Airways, Starlux Airlines, Tigerair Taiwan, and China Airlines in, and bring Taiwanese tourists to Palau,” he said.

 Whipps said the bubble is very important for Palau economically and will serve as a boost to providing revenues anew to the tourism sector, which has been impacted the most by the COVID-19 related border closures.

But not all are happy with the bubble. Some hotel owners are also wary about the safety of the bubble and whether there will be enough tourists coming to Palau to make the endeavor profitable.

The president also included in his official entourage for the trip John Hennessey-Niland, U.S. Ambassador to Palau.

Whipps said the U.S.’s help with the vaccination had made the bubble possible.

President Surangel Whipps Jr. met with Taiwan President Tsai Zing-wen on March 30 in Taipei.
Photos courtesy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Taiwan

In a statement, Whipps said Palau’s strongest ally, the U.S. and Taiwan were both instrumental in keeping the country free from COVID-19.  “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Palau has drawn on the combined expertise of the U.S. and Taiwan public health systems. Through the guidance of these two partners, Palau has remained completely COVID-19 free.”

The U.S. Ambassador’s visit to Taiwan proved to be controversial; he is the first U.S. ambassador to visit Taiwan in an official capacity since 1979.

Whipps said Palau, Taiwan and the U.S. have the same political ideals.

“The United States, Taiwan, and Palau share a strong commitment to democracy, to a free and open Indo-Pacific, and to advancing the peace and prosperity of the region. The United States and Palau have been close partners for more than 75 years, under the Compact of Free Association. Since Taiwan and Palau established diplomatic relations in 1999, they have stood side-by-side in support of a peaceful, rules-based international order,” his statement said. mbj