President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) on Friday once again called for Japan to review what he considered an insufficient number of Japanese tourists visiting Taiwan in recent years, the third time he has aired such concerns in the past 15 days.
Ma told former Japanese deputy prime minister Katsuya Okada, a member of the Japanese House of Representatives, on Aug. 15 that “there is still room for your honorable country to improve” the number of its tourists visiting Taiwan, because it is far less than the number of Taiwanese visiting Japan.
When receiving new Japanese Representative to Taiwan Mikio Numata on Aug. 22, Ma urged Japan to “reflect upon” why there were only 780,000 Japanese visitors to Taiwan in the first half of the year, against 1.46 million Taiwanese tourists to Japan during the same period, adding that Taiwan has surpassed South Korea to become the largest source of tourists to Japan.
On Friday, at a meeting with members of Japan’s Kansai Association of Corporate Executives, Ma said that Japan could expect as many as 2.5 million tourists from Taiwan in a year, almost the same size as the combined number of visits by both sides when he took office six years ago.
“The only improvement needed to be made is that there are too few tourists coming from your honorable country to Taiwan. I hope that your honorable country could make more efforts [to improve the situation],” Ma said.
Repeatedly appealing to Japan in an accusatory tone seemed to suggest that Ma was serious about holding Japan responsible for the imbalance in tourist flows between the two countries.
According to the Tourism Bureau’s inbound tourism statistics last year, China continued to top the list of source countries, with 2.87 million trips made to Taiwan, or 35.8 percent of the 8.02 million visitors Taiwan received, followed by Japan (1.42 million, or 17.7 percent), Hong Kong and Macau (1.183 million, or 14.8 percent), and then the US (414,000, or 5.2 percent).
By area of residence, visitors from Asian countries accounted for 89.1 percent of Taiwan’s inbound tourists, or 7.14 million trips. Excluding China, Hong Kong and Macau, Japan is already the most important inbound market for Taiwan. Malaysia is the second-biggest Asian source country, with total visits of about 394,000 last year, or 4.9 percent.
Since July 2008 — two months after Ma took office — when Taiwan began allowing direct entry to Chinese tourists without having to pass through a third country as required by the previous Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration, and with the increasingly relaxed visa requirements, the lifting of the ban on independent tourists, and the ever-increasing daily quota, Chinese tourists have become indispensable for the nation’s tourism industry.
Compared with the number of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan, which nearly tripled from 2009 to last year, during the same period the number of visitors from Japan to Taiwan grew by 42 percent, those from South Korea by 109 percent, from Southeast Asian countries by 136 percent, from countries in the Americas by 13.7 percent, from countries in Europe by 12.2 percent, from countries of Oceania by 17 percent and from African countries by 13.7 percent.
It is commendable that Ma has begun to look beyond China in the hunt for increased tourism, but he still has a lot to learn. Accusing Japan does not help Taiwan become a more appealing destination for international travelers. Enhancing the nation’s image and upgrading the quality of its tourism services depends on its own efforts. In a democratic country, a government should not dictate to its people which country they should visit.