It is now four years since Taiwan opened its borders to tourists from China. To date, the policy has generated more than 4 million visits and infused more than NT$200 billion (US$6.67 billion) worth of foreign currency into Taiwan’s economy. In June, for example, almost 200,000 Chinese tourists visited Taiwan, an increase of 74 percent year on year. In other words, on average, there are about 6,000 Chinese tourists in Taiwan on any given day.
The question is, can Taiwan’s tourism industry handle this onslaught of tourists? A popular saying among Chinese tourists — they have to “get up before the rooster, run faster than the horse and sleep later than the thief” — hints at the risk of exhaustion they face from overextending themselves.
Then there are the accidents. During the onslaught of Typhoon Megi in October 2010, a landslide on the Suao-Hualien freeway caused a tour bus with 20 Chinese tourists on board to fall into the sea; the Alishan train once derailed, killing five and injuring more than 100 Chinese tourists; a tour bus drove into a cliff wall on the South Link Highway, injuring five Chinese tourists; another tour bus with Chinese tourists from Heilongjiang Province overturned on the Northern Second Highway, killing one and injuring 39 of the tour group — the list goes on.
Chinese academics and media outlets have begun to discuss the frequency with which accidents involving Chinese tourists in Taiwan have occurred over the past four years; the accident rate is 200 times higher than in other countries. The Tourism Bureau has defended itself, saying that several hundred thousand Chinese tourists have visited Taiwan and there have only been 11 accidents attributed to human error, which means the accident ratio is actually 1:0.0002.
Still, it is an undeniable fact that there have been dozens of accidents and that many lives have been lost. The Control Yuan has even proposed corrective measures against the Ministry of Transportation and Communications because it believes the ministry is incapable of effectively preventing tour bus accidents and that is hurting tourism’s image.
The capacity of the Taiwanese market to absorb more tourists is limited, given the poor quality of the tourism industry. Without appropriate limits on the number of Chinese tourists coming to Taiwan, an excessive influx of Chinese tourists not only poses a risk to the tourism industry and tourists themselves, but it may also create problems for normal road use and tourism resources.
To make a comparison, the redundancy in Taiwan’s higher education system is well known, but when Taiwan’s universities enrolled — for the first time — 2,000 Chinese students last year, less than 1,000 students actually showed up.
Do Chinese students find Taiwan unattractive? Not at all. A survey by Reader’s Digest magazine about higher education in Asia shows that Taiwan has moved from 10th to fifth place among the first choices of Chinese students preparing to study overseas.
Currently, Taiwanese professors are, on average, better than their Chinese counterparts, but as the restricted educational system is relaxed, the policy allowing Chinese students to study in Taiwan is contorted. Although some universities want to emulate the policies of Hong Kong and Singapore by selecting more advanced students and enrolling from a broader selection of students, the Ministry of Education’s excessive interference and the discriminatory treatment inherent in the so-called “three restrictions and six noes” policy for Chinese students has meant that these policies are not working.