Taiwan may see growing benefits from an increasing number of Chinese tourists and take advantage of their raw spending power to lift domestic consumption and GDP, especially when its main growth driver — exports — stumbles. However, there is a price to pay.
Many Taiwanese may have had an unpleasant experience if they bumped into some ill-mannered Chinese tourists at the nation’s popular scenic spots, such as the Sun Moon Lake. Behavior such as spitting, littering, cutting lines, carving words on trees and damaging historical sites has led local park administrations to put up signs in simplified Chinese telling the tourists to behave properly.
As these tourism sites are swamped with Chinese visitors, new entry limits have also been set and ticket prices raised to pay for cleanup and maintenance. Those measures have angered local tourists, who complain of a rapid increase in travel costs.
On top of that, quality of life is deteriorating. Chinese tourists make a racket in public places — be it at a popular bookstore or a five-star hotel or Taipei 101.
Most Taiwanese endure those annoying behaviors because the government tells them that China’s nouveau riche tourists will help boost the nation’s economy. Based on the UN World Tourism Organization’s estimates, 100 million Chinese travelers will go abroad by 2015, sooner than the 2020 estimated earlier. Last year, China surpassed Germany and the US to become the world’s biggest tourism revenue source by spending US$102 billion, according to UN figures.
Last year, tourism contributed 4.4 percent to Taiwan’s GDP, with tourism revenue reaching NT$618.4 billion (US$21 billion), a slight decline from 4.76 percent, or NT$636.3 billion, in 2011, Tourism Bureau figures show. Chinese tourists shopped the most, spending US$164.59 a day last year — outspending the US$114.76 a day by Japanese visitors, the second-biggest tourism source after Chinese in Taiwan.
About 2.59 million Chinese visited Taiwan last year, a spike of 46 percent from 1.78 million in 2011, bureau data showed. And in the first eight months of this year, the number of Chinese visitors expanded almost 12 percent to 1.9 million from a year ago.
Two years ago, the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics said that Chinese tourists added 0.28 percentage points to Taiwan’s GDP in 2010 and that this figure would rise along with the increase in the number of visitors — although it has provided no updates since then.
Early last month, Barclays maintained its GDP forecast for Taiwan at 2.2 percent for this year on the back of the growing number of Chinese tourists, increasing trade between Taiwan and China, and improving exports. However, less than a month later, Barclays cut its forecast to 1.6 percent, citing sagging exports. The latest projection is below the government’s target of 2.31 percent growth.
Apparently, the tourism sector and domestic consumption are not yet strong enough to drive GDP growth, as the economy remains heavily reliant on electronics exports. Nonetheless, the government hopes to make private consumption, in which tourism plays an important role, a second source of the nation’s GDP over the long term.
As Chinese visitors play an important part in the nation’s tourism, the government should come up with more measures to reduce the adverse impact from Chinese tourism on local nature parks, museums and scenic spots. The government must try harder to strike a balance between economic growth and protecting people’s quality of life.