Some people have suggested that, starting on March 20, China is likely to impose a limit on the number of its tourists allowed to visit Taiwan. It is also said that the number of cities that allow their residents to travel to Taiwan would also shrink from 47 to four.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson An Fengshan (安峰山) said that such changes are just the result of market behavior, but added that what China might do next would depend on the “development of cross-strait relations” and the change of demand in the cross-strait tourism market.
An’s remark shows that Chinese tourism to Taiwan has never been purely a matter of tourism, but rather involves complex political issues.
By manipulating “tourism diplomacy”— a unique economic weapon — China is warning president-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and the Democratic Progressive Party that if before her inauguration on May 20 she fails to give a positive response to the so-called “1992 consensus” that China insists on upholding, Beijing will mete out new punishment by reducing the number of Chinese tourists allowed to travel to Taiwan.
Since “tourism” is one of the policy tools that China relies on as part of its policies toward Taiwan, the issue of Chinese tourists is both of strategic significance and an indicator of the state of cross-strait relations, and it should not be handled lightly.
Although China’s detailed calculations and manipulations of the number of tourists allowed to visit Taiwan inevitably has an impact on Taiwanese morale and economy, this is not necessarily a bad thing for the nation’s overall tourism industry.
Precisely because China is able to unilaterally control the number of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan, the government should take this opportunity to review its tourism policies, reflect on the excessive reliance on Chinese tourism and even use this as an opportunity to optimize and reform the industry.
The “one-dragon” approach — meaning that Chinese tour companies are in charge of organizing the whole process, from booking the tours to the transportation, shopping, meals, accommodation and other services catering to Chinese tour groups in this nation — profits mainly go to a certain set of travel agencies, while in the eyes of the majority of Taiwanese, Chinese tourists destroy the environment and reduce the quality of domestic tourism.
Just as we are worried that Taiwan’s excessive economic and political reliance on China might harm Taiwanese sovereignty, we should also be on our guard against excessive dependence on Chinese tourism.
Based on risk diversification and the avoidance of inordinate dependence on a single market, which allows China to impose on Taiwan by manipulating the number of its tourists, the government should take pre-emptive measures, do more to market Taiwan to people around the world, especially in Japan and Southeast Asia, and perhaps also loosen visa restrictions on visitors, so that the customer base can be expanded to make up for the losses from a reduction in the number of Chinese tourists.
Improving the quality of the high-end tourism market in Taiwan and promoting domestic travel to Taiwanese are also policies the government should implement.
How to turn the crisis that could arise from hosting fewer Chinese visitors into a new driving force for transforming Taiwan’s domestic tourism industry is something that the government, industry and public should ponder.
Chang Ching-yun is an assistant research fellow at the Taiwan Brain Trust.
Translated by Ethan Zhan
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