By Joon Kim
TAIPEI －As China tries to worsen its diplomatic whirlpool, Taiwan seems to have had settled it, as it binds onto another loophole to preserve its tourism surplus.
“It is possible that there will be no more Chinese tour groups this year,” said Wu Pi-lian (吳碧蓮), co-president of the Cheng An Travel Service.
After the Hualian earthquake in February, China immediately stopped issuing its tour groups travel permits to Taiwan, said local media outlets. Due to a further political dispute, China could limit tourism from April to September, and even prohibit travel from October to December, the Travel Quality Assurance Association announced in March.
Figures by the Tourism Bureau indicates a 7.92 percent drop in international tourism revenue in 2017, largely due to lowering consumption in visitors from China and Japan. Whereas China continues to restrict shopping tours and food expenditure, less Japanese tourists tend to stay in luxury hotels. Meanwhile, visitors from South Korea and those of Southeast Asia have rose significantly, contributing to a total 10.74 million visits.
In a set of legal measures to prevent declines in annual foreign tourism revenues, the Bureau established e-Gate entry programs with the United States, Australia, and most recently, South Korea, to exalt convenience for tourists during immigration clearance. An automated gateway system for passport holders, including the Global Entry service in the United States, and the Arrivals SmartGate program in Australia, activated last November.
These changes reiterate President Tsai’s New Southbound Policy, an alternative gambit that adjusts from total dependence of China, to cultivating relationships with other Asian countries in the South, Southeast, and others in the Pacific. A 10 percent loss in Chinese visitors, in the first quarter of 2016, has “put pressure” on Taiwan to search for other solutions, wrote Chris Halen, a contributive writer based in Taiwan, in the New York Times.
However, Ms. Tsai’s policy has fared well this year, outgoing prior expectations. Figures show that in 2017, the number of South Korean visitors reached 1.05 million. A deputy representative of the Korean Mission in Taipei stressed, with confidence, that they could double its figures between Taiwan and South Korea this year, said the Central News Agency.
Taiwan should first “create a brand” before developing its tourism industry in depth, said Premier Lai Ching-te (賴清德), in a magazine forum on July 3. Taiwan’s central government, added Mr. Lai, would, join its local counterparts to help reassess the pros and cons of its tourism sector, and modernize the quality of current tourism facilities.
Nevertheless, one quality that sets apart Taiwan from other Asian countries is its safety, based on an online survey last month by Skyscanner, a travel search engine, which asked travelers from 9 countries from South and Southeast Asia. On a scale of 1 to 5, “safety” topped the list, followed by “hospitality,” “convenience,” “diet,” and “travel cost.”