The travel industry would lose more than NT$10 billion (US$342.11 million) in sales revenue if there are unanticipated changes in COVID-19 vaccination policies for domestic tour groups, the Travel Agent Association said yesterday.
“We ask the Executive Yuan to continue offering subsidies to travel agencies and their employees until the borders are reopened,” association chairman Hsiao Po-jen (蕭博仁) told a news conference in Taipei.
On Friday last week, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) announced that from Friday, people must show that they have had three doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to be allowed in a group tour or into a gym.
Photo: Chen Hsin-yu, Taipei Times
However, the CECC announced the new policy without first communicating with the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, which oversees the Tourism Bureau.
Minister of Transportation and Communications Wang Kwo-tsai (王國材) on Monday told lawmakers on the Transportation Committee that he only heard about the new policy from news reports.
Since Friday last week, travel agencies have reported receiving about 500 calls per day to cancel tours and request refunds, the association said.
Up to 80 percent of domestic tour groups in the next three months are expected to be canceled because of the new CECC policy, it said.
Collective revenue losses could reach NT$10 billion, it said.
“Why is it that people who have not received a booster can take the MRT and high-speed trains, or go to the movies, but they are not allowed to join a group tour?” Hsiao asked. “Which activity has a higher risk of contracting the virus?”
Because of restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the travel industry has been in an “intensive care unit” for the past two years, surviving on relief funds and stimulus packages, he said.
“We have asked some of our employees to return to work because the borders will soon be reopened, but the three-dose mandate would send us back into intensive care,” he said.
The Executive Yuan should continue offering subsidies to travel industry workers for complying with disease prevention policies, or many travel agencies will go bankrupt this year, Hsiao said.
The new CECC policy would not only lead to more cancelations, but also dissuade people from joining group tours, Travel Quality Assurance Association chairman Louis Hsu (許禓哲) said.
Hsu listed problems that travel agencies have encountered.
Some clients claimed that they had received three doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, but refused to show their records and insisted on canceling tours and getting a full refund, he said.
Others wanted to cancel even though they met the three-dose requirement, but they did not want to pay nonrefundable fees, such as reservation fees for flight tickets and hotel rooms, he said.
With fewer people joining group tours and sharing costs, travel agencies would have to pay the transportation and accommodation costs themselves, Hsu said, adding that deposits they had collected would not be enough to cover the additional burden.
“We lose money whether we continue tours as planned or cancel them altogether,” he said.
Mounting disputes between travel agencies and clients were caused by the lack of communication among the CECC, the transportation ministry and the Tourism Bureau, Travel Agent Association deputy chairman Chang Yung-chen (張永成) said, adding that the Executive Yuan should take immediate action to address the issue.
“The Executive Yuan should also resume subsidies for travel agencies and their employees next month, as we are still struggling to survive,” Chang said, adding that they would no longer need subsidies once tourism arrivals at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport return to 80 percent of 2019 levels.
Taiwan’s publicity has greatly increased in the past few years due to the pandemic, rising global demand for microchips and the war between Ukraine and Russia, Chang said.
“We believe Taiwan will become a popular tourist destination in the post-pandemic era, when travel industry workers would be indispensable,” he said. “We hope that the Executive Yuan will increase funding to subsidize group tours to help retain talent in the travel industry.”
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