A subsidy program devised to salvage the domestic tour sector following a decline in the number of Chinese tourists was questioned by lawmakers at a meeting of the legislature’s Transportation Committee in Taipei yesterday, with lawmakers saying that some travel agencies have abused loopholes in the program.
The NT$300 million (US$9.8 million) program, which was introduced by the Executive Yuan last year, was designed to help travel agencies and counties hit by the decline in visitor numbers.
Minister of Transportation and Communications Hochen Tan (賀陳旦) said the program subsidized tours for 260,000 domestic visitors which greatly benefited counties after a cooling of cross-strait relations.
However, the program only generated NT$1.2 billion, short of the ministry’s expectations, Hochen said.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Huang Kuo-shu (黃國書) said that 600 travel agencies applied for the subsidies, according to Tourism Bureau statics.
He said that the top 10 travel agencies to receive subsidies for tours were problematic.
Many of the travel agencies are owned by the same person, Huang said, adding that they either split one tour group into five small ones or use the same tour group to ask for subsidies twice.
On some tours, the hotel, restaurant and bus company were all owned by the same person, he said.
Only 20 percent of the subsidies have been paid out, Tourism Bureau Director-General Chou Yung-hui (周永暉) said, adding that there is still time to identify those abusing the loopholes.
“All the travel agencies had to sign an affidavit when they requested the subsidies. If they have fabricated the details of the tours they will be asked to return the money,” Chou said.
Chou said it is impossible for a driver to drive two tour buses in one day, and a travel agency is banned from operating a tour bus company.
The bureau and the Directorate-General of Highways would identify the discrepancies, he said.
Hochen said he would clarify the problems within two months.