Tue, Apr 13, 2004 - Page 10 News List

Political row has tourism on the wane

SPOOKED TRAVELERS Travel agents say foreign visitors, particularly those from Japan, are canceling trips to Taiwan because of the furor over the election

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

Political disputes since the presidential election are taking their toll on the nation's tourism industry, with large numbers of foreign visitors cancelling their trips, travel companies said yesterday.

"The large-scale demonstrations have dragged the number of foreign visitors back to the same level as during the SARS outbreak last year," Johnson Tseng (曾盛海), chairman of the Taipei Association of Travel Agents (台北市旅行公會), said yesterday.

Although the rallies launched by the opposition parties have not caused major disruptions, media coverage of the incidents has scared away visitors, especially Japanese tourists, Tseng said, adding that Japanese visitors account for more than one-third of Taiwan's foreign tourists.

A group of 12 travel agencies said that business has dropped by 80 percent. On Sunday the group called on Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to reject applications for more political rallies, according to a local TV news report.

Sean Chuang (莊秀石), chairman of the International Tourist Hotels Association of Taipei (臺北市觀光旅館商業同業公會) and president of the Leofoo Development Co that runs the Westin Taipei (六福皇宮), confirmed that half of the bookings for the hotel from Japanese customers have been cancelled.

"We have already seen severe losses over the SARS outbreak, and do not wish the political turmoil to continue to hurt our business," he said.

Chuang said the sector was expecting a boom after the Tourism Bureau targeted 2004 as the "Visit Taiwan Year," aiming to boost the number of foreign visitors for the year to 3.2 million.

There were 2.9 million overseas visitors to Taiwan in 2002, and the number declined to 2.2 million last year due to the SARS epidemic, according to bureau statistics.

The bureau will find it tough to achieve its goal, as statistics showed there were only 664,000 visitors to the nation for the first three months of this year.

Huang Ching-hui (黃靜惠), director of the bureau's international division, said the bureau has informed Taiwan's overseas representative offices to assure prospective visitors that the political incidents were limited to specific areas of Taipei City -- around the Presidential Office and the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

But Huang acknowledged that the measure failed to placate foreign travelers.

As the bureau has already budgeted NT$1 billion to promote "Visit Taiwan Year," as well as offering a series discounts to lure foreign visitors, Huang said the bureau will not propose further incentives at the moment, adding that the political tensions seems to be easing.

Meanwhile, citizens have postponed outbound travel until after May 20, the date of President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) inauguration for a second term, said Roget Hsu (許高慶), secretary-general of the Travel Agents Association of Taiwan (旅行公會全國聯合會).

"We can only keep our fingers crossed that the political disturbance won't last throughout the year," Hsu said.

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