Filled with a mixture of excitement, curiosity and a little contempt, Taiwanese are awaiting Chinese tourists who will arrive on Friday after Taiwan lifts its five-decade ban on direct flights.
Although many Taiwanese have visited China in recent years, this will be the first time they will see large groups of Chinese in Taiwan.
After half a century of separation, many Taiwanese have contradictory ideas about Chinese: They are eager to show off Taiwan’s democracy, wealth, culture and sophistication, but some worry that the Chinese are backward, rude and may bring diseases to their homeland.
On television talk shows, officials and academics discuss how to prevent Chinese tourists from seeking asylum or jobs in Taiwan, and how to prevent their bringing disease.
Hu Shu-chen (胡淑貞), head of Tainan City’s Health Bureau, even suggested disinfecting all the places Chinese tourists pass through.
Some analysts warn that this misconception will affect Taiwan’s reception of Chinese tourists and hurt Taiwan’s tourism industry in the long run.
In its cover story entitled “Millions of tourism prisoners visit Taiwan,” The Journalist magazine blasted the government for restricting the movements of Chinese tourists — they must enter and leave as a group, must have morning and evening roll calls to make sure no one has gone missing, must ask for permission if one falls ill and wants to rest in a hotel and they must seek police permission to change their itinerary.
Chinese tourists will bring an estimated NT$60 billion (US$2 billion) in revenues, yet Taiwan is setting obstacles with the restrictions, the magazine said.
“The tourism industry is a service industry, and quality of service is important. If we receive Chinese tourists with a plunder-style service, we may meet the same result as in the film The Pope’s Toilet,” the weekly said.
The Pope’s Toilet tells the story of a villager in Uruguay who sold his family’s possessions and borrowed money to build a fancy toilet hoping to make money from tourists coming to see Pope John Paul II during his 1988 visit and needing to use the toilet.
His dream was dashed when only a few hundred tourists showed up and no one used his toilet.
Taiwan does not need to worry about a shortage of Chinese tourists in the next few years since Chinese are curious about Taiwan.
But their interest will wear off unless Taiwan improves its service and tourist facilities and designs interesting package tours.
Under the agreements signed in Beijing on June 13, China will send a 600-member inaugural tour group to Taiwan on Friday, when the two sides launch weekend charter flights.
In the first year, Taiwan will receive a maximum of 3,000 Chinese tourists per day (although recent reports have suggested China will only allow 1,000 per day), and will raise the quota as it expands the weekend charter flights to daily charter flights and eventually to regular flights.
Phones at Chinese travel agencies have been ringing off the hook as tens of thousands of Chinese want to join the first tour group to Taiwan.
The biggest draw for Chinese tourists is Taiwan’s conflict with China and the life of dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), Alishan, Sun Moon Lake and their people.
The government has been working around the clock to renovate airports and tourist resorts.
While the government says it is ready to receive Chinese tourists, many Taiwanese think its airports are too old and too small, toilets at tourists resorts are uncleanly and city roads have too many potholes.
Songshan Airport in Taipei, which will accommodate flights from China, is a cramped domestic airport dating back to the 1895-1945 Japanese colonial period.
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