Sat, Dec 24, 2011 - Page 2 News List

US visits to surge: travel agents

EASY GOING:If Taiwan gets US visa-waiver privileges and the costly, complicated visa application process is lifted, trips to the US could increase by 20%, experts said

Staff Writer, with CNA

The number of Taiwanese visitors to the US could surge by more than 20 percent after Taiwan gains admission to the US’ Visa Waiver Program (VWP), travel industry experts said yesterday, a day after Taiwan was officially listed as a candidate for the program.

The listing paves the way for Taiwan to join the program — one of the country’s major foreign-affairs goals for many years.

“The number of Taiwanese travelers to the US could increase by more than 20 percent after Taiwan obtains visa-waiver treatment,” said Roget Hsu (許高慶), secretary-general of the Travel Agent Association of the Republic of China.

Hsu said the complicated process of applying for a US visa and the high application fee have deterred many local travelers from visiting that country.

“It is especially inconvenient for travelers from central and southern Taiwan, who have to travel to Taipei for their visa interviews and therefore have to spend extra money on transportation and accommodation” while in the city, Hsu said.

Taiwanese travelers have to pay more than NT$4,000 each to apply for a US visa.

Hsu forecast that the number of Taiwanese travelers to South Korea this year could surpass those that traveled to the US, which has been the third-most favored travel destination after China and Japan for local travelers in recent years.

Lion Travel Service Co, a major local travel agency, also forecast an increase of more than 20 percent in Taiwanese visitors to the US.

“Visitor numbers to the US could grow by 20 percent, or even 30 percent,” senior manager and spokesman for the agency Yu Kuo-chen said.

The number of people buying Lion Travel tours to the UK has increased five-fold since the UK included Taiwan in its visa-waiver program and it is likely that the situation would be the same for the US, he said.

In March 2009, the UK became the first European country to grant Taiwan a visa-waiver privilege.

The complicated US visa application process has contributed to a decline of more than 50 percent in group travel to the US over the past 10 years, Yu said, citing in-house statistics.

Despite the positive outlook for the US travel market next year, Hsu said, it is only likely that visitor numbers would be “affected slightly” in the short term, as some travelers might postpone their travel plans until Taiwan is granted the visa-waiver privilege.

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