On Tuesday afternoon in Taipei, about 170 people, some wearing hazmat suits and face shields, boarded a plane bound for the Pacific island of Guam.
The sold-out flight was a vacation package with a Covid twist: dubbed “Air V&V” (vacation and vaccination), Guam is capitalizing on its abundance of vaccines to jumpstart its tourism industry, with residents of Taiwan being the first customers.
Guam, a US territory in Micronesia, announced the tours in June, with the campaign speech “vacation while you wait.”
The island has fully vaccinated about 75% of its adult population. Taiwan, which suffers from severe shortages, has administered at least one dose at just over 10% and fully vaccinated about 0.2%.
Air V & V’s first four tours from Taiwan, with a total of 439 travelers, have been sold out.
“This program captures a unique demographic of travelers from around the world who are tired of waiting to get vaccinated in this pandemic,” said Carl Gutierrez, president of the Guam Visitors Bureau in Guam, in June.
“This will give our tourism industry an opportunity through this unique and valuable service, offering more opportunities for our people to get back to work and make our economy roar again.”
The program involves a dozen hotels that house travelers while they receive the single-shot Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines at Guam’s private clinics. Taiwanese can book one of 10 tours, which range from five to 22 days, getting their first chance the day after landing before freely touring the country.
The most popular vaccine so far is Moderna, chosen by 38% of people with reservations, followed by Pfizer with 34% and Johnson & Johnson with 23%, Taiwan’s top travel agency Lion Travel said Tuesday.
In Taiwan, multiple factors have led to a major dose shortage, exacerbated by the island’s first major outbreak of the pandemic, which began in April.
Authorities are rushing to vaccinate people in order of priority groups, but have been hampered by supply shortages, China’s alleged foreign intervention, and doubts fueled by fake news.
Data published by Lion Travel suggested that the Guam offering was proving more popular with those in Taiwan who have little hope of receiving a local vaccine anytime soon. Lion Travel CEO Andy Yu said nearly 73% of bookings were for people under the age of 49, with the largest cohort 20-29 and 40-49.
Other regions, including Bali and the Maldives, have reported similar businesses, but Guam is among the first to receive travelers.
Before the first flight arriving Tuesday afternoon, there was a mixture of excitement and anxiety among hotel employees preparing for incoming guests and the reopening of tourism in Guam.
“We are hiring additional people in anticipation of a large number of arrivals,” said Maria Teresa Reyes-Burrier, director of food and beverage at Lotte Guam Resort.
“We are implementing protection and mitigation measures and we are training new hires to ensure they are familiar with current Covid-related guidelines,” he said.
“The reopening of tourism is something we look forward to and hope it will be safe for our incoming guests and our employees.”
Jen Vee, 25, a gift shop assistant at the Hyatt Regency Guam, said she was still “quite nervous about Covid” but was looking forward to the resurgence of tourism in Guam.
“This is good news for many people who have lost their jobs during the pandemic. It’s exciting, but at the same time it’s pretty scary. “
There may be some concern among employees about the arrival of unvaccinated passengers, but Chito De Guzman-Aguilo, Marketing Manager for Guam Reef Resort and Spa, said: “It is just a matter of ensuring that protocols and guidelines are implemented as effectively and efficiently “.
Lion Travel’s Yu said more than 80% of the tickets for the first 22-day tour had been sold. It did not say how many cancellations there were following the reintroduction of the self-pay hotel quarantine last week for travelers returning to Taiwan.
Air V&V tour packages start at around $ 1,400 for flights and hotels, but don’t cover the cost of pre-departure Covid tests needed to avoid Guam’s quarantine, or vaccines, which total hundreds of dollars. On Taiwanese social media, many commenters expressed anger over access to the vaccine for those who could afford it, while compatriots at home had to wait and hope.
“So if you are rich, you can get vaccinated abroad, otherwise you have to wait or die in Taiwan,” said one.
“This means that the government is incompetent and it is the people who have to save themselves,” said another.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reduced Guam’s risk of Covid exposure to a moderate level, and daily Covid-19 infections have been low.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism