Lawmakers on the legislature’s Transportation Committee yesterday asked the Tourism Bureau to bolster efforts to attract South Korean visitors, particularly after China launched retaliatory moves against Seoul after its deployment of the US-built Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile system.
The proposal was made at a committee meeting in which the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other government agencies were scheduled to present a briefing on the government’s proposed measures to address the continuing decline of Chinese tourists and to attract more tourists from ASEAN.
Although lawmakers were impressed by the growth in the numbers of tourists from Southeast Asian nations, particularly from Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines, they said that the bureau should strive to draw more tourists from South Korea in light of increasingly strained relations between China and South Korea.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Cheng Yun-peng (鄭運鵬) and New Power Party Legislator Hung Tzu-yung (洪慈庸) asked whether the bureau has any specific plans to increase the number of South Korean tourists.
The bureau last month ramped up its tourism campaign in South Korea, Tourism Bureau Director-General Chou Yung-hui (周永暉) said, adding that bureau offices in Seoul, Incheon and Fusan are promoting high-quality tours around Taiwan and offering South Korean visitors special discounts.
Taiwan welcomed 10.69 million international tourists last year, representing a 2.4 percent increase from 2015, bureau statistics show.
Of that number, 32.9 percent were Chinese, still the largest group, but the number of Chinese tourists last year dropped by about 16 percent year-on-year, the statistics show.
Japanese visitor numbers increased an annual 16.5 percent to reach 1.9 million, while the number of South Korean tourists rose by 34.3 percent to about 880,000, the statistics show.
Strong growth was also seen in tourists from Thailand (57.3 percent), Vietnam (34.3 percent), the Philippines (23.9 percent), Malaysia (10 percent) and Indonesia (6.2 percent) after the government either waived the necessity for visas or relaxed requirements.
Ministry of Transportation and Communications Hochen Tan (賀陳旦) said the number of Chinese tourists arriving as members of tour groups started to decline in May last year, while independent Chinese travelers began to decline in August.
Chinese tourists in both categories have decreased since January this year, he said, adding that Chinese tourists are expected to fall by more than 20 percent this year should the trend continue.
Taiwan waives visas for tourists from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Brunei.
The visa-waiver program for tourists from Thailand and Brunei is a one-year trial program, the MOFA said, adding it is expected to be extended for another year if there are no issues with the program.
Taiwan offers e-visas for tour groups from India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, the MOFA said, adding it is working on allowing Indonesian and Philippine tourists to visit Taiwan more easily, either waiving their visas or providing visas on arrival.
Despite visa relaxations, there is a shortage of tour guides who speak the region’s languages, Cheng said.