Sat, May 06, 2017 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Chinese tourists will not be missed

The Mainland Affairs Council’s announcement on Thursday that the number of Chinese tourist arrivals dropped 50.2 percent in the first four months of the year compared with the same period last year is sure to lead to much gnashing of teeth and wailing from certain sectors.

It should not.

What it should do is add impetus to the government’s ongoing efforts to attract more tourists from the region and further afield.

Former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) China-centric tourism development efforts were overly grandiose, economically short-sighted and to the benefit of only a few, not all of whom were Taiwanese.

Ever since Beijing began tightening the screws on its Taiwan-bound tourists following President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) election in January last year, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) officials have complained that Tsai not kowtowing to Beijing and caving in to its demand that she adhere to certain principles and consensuses would cripple the tourism industry and those who work in it.

Barely a word was heard from these critics about how the China-oriented tourism sector had become dominated by “one dragon” (一條龍) firms — Chinese companies that arranged the transportation, accommodation, meals and shopping excursions of Chinese tour groups — meaning that most of the money from such tourists remained in China.

They forgot how such firms sought rock-bottom prices, hurting Taiwan’s hospitality sector and leading to poor service that damaged the nation’s reputation, or the many complaints about rude or destructive behavior by some Chinese tourists.

Taiwan opened its doors to Chinese tour groups on July 4, 2008, when it launched weekend cross-strait charter flights, with the numbers quickly growing when charter flights became daily the following December. Over the next few years, the numbers of Chinese tour groups and independent travelers soared.

Tsai’s critics have barely said a word about how unrealistic the Ma administration’s promises of ever-higher quotas for Chinese travelers were, given the inadequacy of the nation’s tourism industry and transport infrastructure to support such numbers.

The National Palace Museum, Alishan, Sun Moon Lake, the Hualien-Taitung area and even Kenting, not to mention the small Aboriginal villages and communities that suddenly became the focus of Tourism Bureau advertising, were not equipped to deal with the thousands of Chinese tourists that began to descend on them daily, while the focus on catering to Chinese tourists at those sites drove away Taiwanese and tourists from other nations.

Relying on the Chinese market to boost the nation’s tourism industry was an easy solution because of the common use of Mandarin on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, removing the need to find and train guides and other workers in Japanese, Korean, English and Southeast Asian or European languages.

The government is now trying to address the language issue as well as other requirements to broaden the nation’s tourism market, but it will take time. There are no quick and easy solutions.

Those who demand that Tsai and her administration provide an overnight remedy are deluding themselves and others. They are also deluding themselves that the decline in the number of Chinese tourists is just a matter of cross-strait ties.

They should pay attention to China’s reaction to South Korea not heeding its protests about the deployment of an advanced US missile system: Chinese travel agencies in March suddenly announced that they were no longer arranging trips to South Korea.

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