The approximately 15,000 Taiwanese tourists set to visit Japan between now and the end of next month may find it difficult to travel around the country due to a severe shortage of tour buses, travel agencies said.
The crisis first hit in July last year, affecting Taiwanese tour groups traveling to Hokkaido, Japan’s second-largest island.
According to Travel Agent Association secretary-general Roget Hsu (許高慶), Taiwanese travel agents say they need about 500 buses to accommodate all the tour groups headed to Japan before the end of next month. If the issue is not resolved in time, 500 tour groups comprising a total of about 15,000 Taiwanese may have to find other means of transportation.
Hsu said the bus shortage affected some tour groups that went to Japan last week, forcing travel agents to arrange taxis and subway tickets for their clients and trucks to carry their luggage.
The Tourism Bureau issued a statement yesterday saying it had conveyed the urgency of the situation to the Interchange Association Japan in Taipei.
“The shortage of tour buses in Japan will not only greatly impact Taiwanese tourists, but also hinder the national travel industry,” the bureau said. “We are urging travel agencies to confirm tour bus, accommodation and flight reservations before taking groups to Japan. Those who fail to do so could be found to be in violation of the Regulations for Administration of Travel Agencies (旅行業管理規則).”
The bureau suggested that both travel agents and Japan-bound tourist seek to avoid being affected by the shortage by either postponing trips or changing destinations.
Hsu said that travel agencies in Hong Kong, China and across Southeast Asia are grappling with the issue too, but Taiwan is the most affected since it is the No. 1 source country for tourists to Japan, with the number of Taiwanese traveling there expected to hit 3 million this year.
Hsu added that several factors had contributed to the rapid increase in the volume of Taiwanese flying to Japan, such as Tokyo’s aggressive, global tourism campaigns, as well as its visa-waiver and travel subsidy programs for Southeast Asian tourists.
Since 2012, the number of Taiwanese tourists to Japan has grown by more than 50 percent, Hsu said, an increase he attributed to the dramatic increase in flights between the two countries resulting from their open-sky agreement.
“Despite its successful tourism campaigns, Japan has had problems raising the quality of its tourism-related sectors. Accommodation and tour buses are always in short supply during the high season,” he said. “In addition, the Japanese government’s ban on tour bus operators offering services outside a designated area for safety reasons does not help matters.”
The association has suggested that Tokyo lift restrictions on tour bus operators to meet rising demand and also that it work with Taipei to adjust the number of flights between Japan and Taiwan.