Vila Times

FSM’s Yap island businesses suffer huge losses after United Airlines canceled flights to Palau

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Some time ago United Airlines announced changes to several routes in the Pacific region. Among the changes was suspension of the only weekly flight from Yap to Palau by Jan. 7, 2018. There aren’t enough passengers to warrant continuing the service.

But with only three months’ warning several hundred residents of Yap, most of whom are from the Philippines, were being cut off from their only link into and out of this remote island, reports Pacific Islands Times. An American visa is required to transit through Guam, the single remaining point of entry after the flights are terminated, and the majority of Filipinos who live and work in Yap do not have one.

The tourism industry has been heavily impacted. The hotels in Yap have had dozens of cancellations. Manta Ray Resort, the largest hotel on the island, has been offering “combo packages” to divers for a Yap-Palau-Philippines itinerary. According to general manager Ruud van Baal, “With no direct flights between Yap and Palau, visitors will have layovers of up to 16 or 17 hours. We’ve had $65,000 worth of bookings cancelled since the announcement.

That’s 80 to 100 visitors during our busiest season and there are pending reservations that we expect to be cancelled that will more than double that loss.” Numie Acker, the resort’s hotel manager, adds, “And that’s just our hotel.

We only have 35 rooms so we send our overflow to partner hotels on the island. Other small businesses will be hurt, too.”

Manta Ray invested US$10,000 in a Facebook campaign a few hours before the suspension was announced.

This is just one part of their promotional campaign that brings visitors from Germany, the Czech Republic, and other European countries.

“Our goal was to double the number of divers coming to Yap over the next two to three years. That’s gone up in smoke,” says van Baal. “The travel agents that we work with tell us to talk with United. We’ve tried but we’re a small hotel and they’re the largest airline in the world. We’re going to talk with the Yap Visitors Bureau and our partners in the Yap Hotel Association about shifting our focus to markets that are nearby like Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan but that shift will take time.

“We first learned about the suspension when an overseas tour operator told us,” notes Acker. “We still have not received any communication from United. Their on-the-ground staff and the local managers are doing what they can, but their hands are tied, too.”

Manta Ray executives are meeting with members of the Yap State Legislature in an attempt to find out more about alternative proposals that are being considered.

“But there’s no information coming from FSM national. That’s very upsetting to us,” says Acker.

“They’re not sharing their plans or even telling us what they’re working on. It’s all hearsay. It’s as if they don’t care what happens to Yap because it doesn’t affect them.” Manta Ray has employees from Russia, Indonesia, Germany, Switzerland as well as the Philippines who must obtain U.S. visas to transit through Guam.

The regional carrier PMA has expressed interest in taking over the Yap-Palau route but needs permission from FSM.

PMA is willing to add a larger plane to their small fleet to take over the route, but with no information coming from the FSM government about what they are considering, the options being considered are unknown.