About 10 percent of Japanese tour groups with bookings to visit Taiwan have canceled their travel plans amid a territorial dispute over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), local media reported.
Located about 185km northeast of Taiwan, the Diaoyutais — known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan — have been under Japan’s control since 1972, but are also claimed by Taiwan and China.
Citing travel service providers, the reports said the cancellations were mainly caused by concern among Japanese tourists about possible unpleasant encounters with Chinese visitors during their stay in Taiwan.
Most of the cancellations involved corporate incentive tours, the reports said, adding that some Japanese schools have canceled Taiwan-bound short-term study programs because school authorities were concerned about their students’ safety.
Amid the escalation of tensions between China and Japan over the Diaoyutais, nearly 80 percent of Japanese tour groups have dropped their China travel plans since late last month and some of them have shifted their tour itineraries to Taiwan.
However, the situation changed after Taiwanese and Japanese coast guard officers engaged in a water-cannon altercation in waters near the Diaoyutais on Sept. 25.
The Japanese news media’s extensive coverage of the incident led ordinary Japanese citizens to perceive that Taiwan, Hong Kong and China were collaborating to fight against Japan over the Diaoyutais issue.
This misperception further caused would-be Japanese visitors to worry about their travel safety and cancel their Taiwan travel plans, the reports said.
The long-simmering territorial dispute came to a head last month, after Japan nationalized the island cluster by buying three islets from their private owner on Sept. 11 in an attempt to reinforce its sovereignty claim.
The move sparked widespread protests in China that hurt Japanese businesses.
Sanpu Travel Service Co chairman Hsieh Hsien-chih (謝憲治) said Japanese tourist arrivals in Taiwan increased 18 percent year-on-year in the first eight months of this year.
The September-to-November period tends to be a peak season for Japanese tourist arrivals, Hsieh said.
“However, this year the number of Japanese citizens planning to visit Taiwan during that period has seen a 20 percent to 30 percent decline,” Hsieh said. “My company alone has received cancellation requests from about 1,000 Japanese who were originally scheduled to tour Taiwan in October.”
As a consequence, he said, the annual growth rate of Japanese tourist arrivals for this year could be limited.
International Tour Operation Co deputy general manager Lee Ta-wen (李大文) said he hoped the curtain would soon come down on the islet row, because it has had an increasingly serious impact on the local tourism industry.
Nearly 10 percent of Japanese corporate incentive tour reservations for next month have been canceled over safety concerns, Lee said.
Tourism Bureau officials said the bureau’s branch in Japan has met with Japanese city or prefecture tourist offices and education commissions to brief them on the measures adopted by Taiwan to ensure visitors’ safety.