Even before the election results on Saturday last week, there were rumors that China might reduce the number of tourists allowed to visit Taiwan if Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was elected. While this might worry some people, it could be a good opportunity to readjust the nation’s tourism promotion policy.
After more than half a century of hostility, the governments of Taiwan and China finally agreed to lift a ban on Chinese tourism to Taiwan in June 2008. The number of Chinese visitors skyrocketed and last year Chinese tourists accounted for more than 40 percent of all foreign visitors.
With millions of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan annually, the tourism industry should be able to reap the benefits, yet the “one-dragon” (一條龍) service — meaning that Chinese companies organize the transportation, shopping, meals, accommodation and other services catering to Chinese tour groups — excludes non-Chinese businesses from the market.
Taiwanese tour guides and travel agencies have repeatedly said that due to the low prices that Chinese tourists pay to join tour groups to Taiwan, they make very little profit, as some Chinese travel agencies pay Taiwanese tour companies only US$40 or less per person per day to provide activities and accommodation, despite Tourism Bureau regulations that set the minimum per person per day budget at US$80.
Taiwanese tour guides have tried to make more money by charging souvenir shops commissions and as a result, souvenir items in some stores might be sold at higher prices to Chinese tourists.
A tea grower told the Taipei Times in an interview that a travel agency asked if the store would be willing to receive Chinese tour groups under the condition that the store pay 70 percent of profits made in sales to the Chinese tourists in commission to the agency.
The overwhelming number of Chinese tourists also affects the quality of vacations in Taiwan for both locals and travelers from other nations.
People complain that popular tourist destinations are overcrowded with Chinese tourists: At Alishan (阿里山), it is nearly impossible to get tickets for the famous mountain railroad, as tickets for entire trains are often booked by Chinese travel agencies. At Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) in Nantou County, people are irritated by Chinese tourists cutting in line to take pictures at scenic spots. At the National Palace Museum in Taipei, people often complain that Chinese tourists are speaking too loudly, disrupting their appreciation of the collections. Museum staff recommend that domestic visitors come from 6pm to 9pm on Friday and Saturday nights, as Taiwanese get free entry into the museum, and few Chinese tourists visit at that time.
The decline in quality of travel has also led to a decline in the numbers of tourists from other nations.
Many Chinese tourists say Taiwan is a place of low quality, and there is a popular saying in China that “if you have been to Taiwan, you will regret it for the rest of your life.”
Most importantly, the Chinese government can arbitrarily control the number of Chinese nationals to Taiwan. An over-reliance on Chinese tourists means the survival of Taiwan’s tourism industry is in Beijing’s hands.
If Beijing cut down on the number of Chinese tourists allowed to visit Taiwan, the tourism industry might suffer for a short while, yet, in the long run, it is a good opportunity for Taiwan to readjust its tourism policy for healthier development.
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