Taiwan and China are scheduled to meet in Hong Kong at the end of this month to discuss issues related to free and independent travelers (FIT) from China, the Tourism Bureau announced last week.
Under current regulations, Chinese tourists can only visit Taiwan through a pre-arranged tour group and their freedom to travel independently faces stringent restrictions.
Tourism Bureau Deputy Director General Wayne Liu (劉喜臨) said whether the FIT policy would soon apply to Chinese -tourists depended on the outcome of the meeting, which will involve the Taiwan Strait Tourism Association (TSTA) and the Cross-Strait Tourism Exchange Association (CTEA), representing Taiwan and China respectively.
The two quasi-official bodies are charged with negotiating technical issues involved in cross-strait tourism.
Among others, TSTA secretary-general Chang Shi-chung (張錫聰) is expected to meet CTEA secretary-general Man Hongwei (滿宏衛), Liu said.
The two originally agreed to meet last month, but the meeting was postponed as a result of Typhoon Megi.
The Ministry of Transportation and Communications proposed last month to execute the FIT policy for Chinese tourists in three stages. In the first stage, the employees of 500 large corporations in China would be permitted to visit Taiwan as FITs and be given multiple-entry permits. The government would not cap the number of Chinese tourists in this category, provided that the company vouches for them.
In the second stage, the FIT policy would be extended to regular tourists, whose number would be capped at between 300 and 500 visitors per day. However, those individuals would have to be from “first-tier” cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin and Chongqing.
In the final phase, Chinese tourists would be allowed to travel as FITs to the outlying islands of Kinmen, Matsu and Penghu, though different regulations would apply.
Aside from the FIT policy for Chinese tourists, Chang and Man will review issues that surfaced in the handling of Chinese casualties from the Suhua Highway incident last month.
Landslides on the highway caused by torrential rain brought by Megi killed 20 Chinese tourists, two Taiwanese drivers and one Taiwanese tour guide.
Meanwhile, Liu said the number of foreign tourists to Taiwan could surpass 5.3 million this year, adding that the number could hit 6 million next year.
Statistics from the Tourism Bureau showed that about 4.5 million people visited Taiwan between January and last month, a 27 percent increase from the same period last year.
The top three source nations for tourists were Malaysia, China and South Korea.