Chamorro, tomorrow?

As for many of you, this is normally my season of backpacks, beaches, and barbecues. For now, the President’s View, literally, centers on the Keelung River, refilled after several much-needed rains and fringed by green hills. My panorama comes courtesy of the amba Taipei Songshan design hotel – Chamber member since 2017, home of an unforgettable log grill inside its Que Restaurant, and my pick for a relaxed, soft-landing pad in Taipei. If you have the choice, I recommend staycation over quarantine, but with the amba family, I vouch for both.

Other key features of my view are a semi-deserted train station and a traffic-free boulevard, reflections of a projected 1.9% quarter-on-quarter drop in Taiwan’s GDP. What is missing from this Travel & Culture picture? Travel! Mover of goods and people, dynamo of modern economies. In July, we begin to airbrush this image.

Guam, a picturesque American territory 3.5 hours’ flight from Taiwan’s capital, visited visa-free by over 30,000 Taiwan residents in a typical year, has been cut off from scheduled air service with Taiwan for 15 months. Happily, local travel agent Lion Travel (once and future Chamber member) and others are joining with airlines to offer frequent direct charter flights from July. The roll out of these flights coincides with the launch of some new travel packages offered by Guam, one of which is mysteriously dubbed “Air V&V.” (Hint: I speak of COVID-19 vaccinations, legally available in Guam to Americans and other nationalities).

The offering is about to become even more enticing as Guam, with an enviable 80% vaccination rate, is poised to completely drop its current six-day quarantine requirement for international arrivals. So if scheduled air travel is a bridge to recovery, and charter flights are a bridge to scheduled service, we are onto something. This is a build-back strategy all members can get behind (and we are also looking at you, United Airlines!) by including Guam in summer plans.

But aren’t charters discouraged or prohibited in Taiwan? Nope. To protect public health, the government nixed for the time being group travel, but foreign individual travel and charter flights are fine. CECC has banned the marketing of “vaccination-themed travel packages” within Taiwan, and providers are complying. The conveniently constructed packages that are on offer to anyone who has made their way to Guam are independent of the point-to-point transport offerings of the charter organizers and operators. We might term this the “what-happens-in-Vegas” regulatory approach. Safe transit and equity are valid governmental concerns, but while Taiwan’s vaccine supply is still ramping up, by allowing individual travel overseas – including for vaccination – it seems the Taiwan authorities have found a reasonable middle ground.

There are three things to like about the Guam charter breakthrough. On a macroeconomic level (for both Taiwan and Guam), we fly our way to recovery through service jobs and tourist spending. For our AmCham members – in this case, our travel agents, airlines, and the recently upgraded Guam Taiwan Office – we demonstrate that Chamber networking can lead to commercial synergies. It was the Chamber’s Publications Marketing & Sales Manager Caroline Lee who picked up on this potential deal and then helped matchmake. Connecter, honest broker, and advocate are roles we love at AmCham, so call on us.

Finally, for our individual members, a nearby getaway with cruises, cave swims, and a taste of Mariana history and culture awaits. The only loser I see from a Guam charter trip (with an optional needle stick), is a spiky virus, which ends up a bit lonelier. Hafa adai is the friendly Chamorro greeting that means “What’s up?” and is pronounced “half-a-day” – all the time you’ll need to reach Guam on a July charter. Read on, and then get packing. Recovery – yours and everyone’s – is “in play.” Literally.