Only 587 Chinese free independent travelers (FIT) have visited Taiwan since the program was launched one month ago, the National Immigration Agency said.
The figure was seen as a gloomy forecast for the FIT program, which allows up to 500 Chinese per day to visit without having to be part of a tour group, or be chaperoned by a tour guide.
However, Mainland Affairs Council Deputy Minister Liu Te-shun (劉德勳) said the apparent lack of interest in the program only showed that more time was needed for both sides to become familiar with the new system.
“When travel exchanges of tour groups took effect in 2008, the situation was as bad,” he said. “Look at what we have achieved now.”
The Tourism Bureau said more than 3 million Chinese have visited Taiwan since the government opened the door to Chinese tour groups three years ago, bringing in NT$195.8 billion (US$6.57 billion).
Liu said seasonal factors should also be taken into consideration because Chinese students, seen as the biggest base for the program, are preparing for their exam season.
Tourism Bureau Deputy Director-General David Hsieh (謝謂君) said the bureau had approved about 1,000 applications from Chinese FITs.
He said he expects the program to be in full swing once Taiwan establishes a good reputation among individual Chinese tourists.
Travel Agent Association chairman Yao Ta-kuang (姚大光) said he was satisfied with the tourist traffic so far.
“The program doesn’t operate like a tap,” Yao said. “Give it a little time and we will see the daily cap hit its limit.”
Not everyone in the association agrees.
“We didn’t expect the quota to be met right away, but we are shocked that so few solo tourists have come so far,” said Roger Hsu (許高慶), secretary-general of the Travel Agent Association.
Hsu said travel agencies were probably not enthusiastic about promoting individual tourism, considered high-risk and low-profit, because they could be suspended if anyone goes missing.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP
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