Tue, Oct 10, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Feature: After crash, nation's travel industry faces questions

FALLOUT While the surviving Chinese visitors struggle to put their lives back together, the tourism bureau and agents are looking for ways to improve service quality

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

For the Chinese tourists who survived the bus crash that occurred in Nantou County last week, this year's Mid-Autumn Festival was clouded with misery.

Some lost their loved ones in the accident while others have still not recovered from their tragic experience.

Soon after the accident, the Tourism Bureau of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) issued a statement that presented solutions designed to ensure greater travel service quality.

One solution stipulated that the daily amount each customer could be charged could not be set at below US$80.

sharp relief

The accident, however, brought the problems facing Taiwan's tourism industry into sharp relief as the nation prepares to increase access for Chinese tourists, private travel associations said.

Tseng Sheng-hai (曾盛海), chairman of the Travel Agent Association of Taiwan, told the Taipei Times yesterday that the accident was a result of the cut-throat competition among travel agencies that causes them to lower their prices and compromise on the quality of the services -- such as bus transportation -- that they provide to tourists.

Tseng also said that the government has already amended regulations that allow Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan without being required to transit through the third country.

The amendment has authorized the travel agent's association to draft disciplinary rules for all travel service providers to follow.

The association is charged with the responsibility of monitoring travel service quality, setting reasonable rates for package tours, settling travel-related disputes and ensuring that tourists do not pass through Taiwan under fake identities.

Travel agencies that fail to agree to the association's disciplinary rules will not be allowed to offer services to tourists.

Moreover, any infraction of the rules by an agency could result in the imposition of a suspension of their services for one to six months.

no enforcement

However, since Taiwan and China have yet to agree on the specific terms of the amendment, the government here cannot currently enforce its regulations, Tseng said.

Tseng said that the association has no legal authority to penalize disobedient travel agencies now and could only give them verbal warnings.

Chang Cheng-mei (張政美), a representative from the Travel Quality Assurance Association, said yesterday that the nation lacks hotels with mid-priced rooms to accommodate the tastes of Chinese tourists.

He added that the intense competition among the operators in the industry has forced many travel agencies to lower their prices and look for additional revenues from other sources such as kickbacks from shop or restaurant owners.

Chang said that the nation has not established an effective certification system to provide travel service quality information about operators to tourists.

Some Chinese tourists have complained to the association that the food they ate in restaurants in Taiwan was awful and that they were often fooled into buying fake jewelry and second-rate tea, he said.

Taiwan's tourism bureau is also being panned for its ability to settle travel-related disputes and to rapidly respond to emergency travel situations.

criticized

Four months ago, the bureau was criticized for doing almost nothing when the Miramar Garden Taipei did not strictly observe the requirements stipulated in its build-operate-transfer contract when it established room prices.

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