Thu, May 04, 2017 - Page 3 News List

Lawmakers urge government focus on cruise tourism

CASINO SALES POINT?The government has set itself a goal of attracting 1 million shipboard visitors this year, but lawmakers said it is ignoring an attraction of cruises

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

Deputy Minister of Transportation and Communications Wang Kwo-tsai talks to lawmakers during a meeting of the Legislative Yuan’s Transportation Committee yesterday in Taipei.

Photo: Fang Bin-chao, Taipei Times

The Legislative Yuan’s Transportation Committee yesterday urged the Ministry of Transportation and Communications to come up with more effective measures to boost the number of international visitors arriving on cruise ships.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Cheng Yun-peng (鄭運鵬) suggested that the ministry considering allowing gambling activities on Taiwanese liners when they are in international waters as a way of competing with international cruise lines.

The call came after representatives of Taiwan International Port Corp (TIPC), the Marine Port Bureau and the Tourism Bureau gave a presentation to the committee, telling it that the government aims to attract 1 million cruise ship visitors this year, which would be an increase of 33 percent over last year’s arrivals.

Tourism Bureau data showed that 19,513 international tourists arrived on cruise ships in the first quarter of this year, a 106 percent increase over the same period last year.

The most significant growth has been in the number of visitors from the Philippines arriving by ship, from 85 in the first quarter of last year to 4,762 in the first quarter this year.

While 3,403 Chinese tourists arrived between January and March last year, only 432 came during the same timeframe this year, Tourism Bureau data showed.

TIPC said no Chinese cruise ship has applied to dock this year at any of the nation’s international ports.

Cheng said that Taiwan was the second-largest Asian market for cruise ship visitors in 2015, accounting for 11 percent of such tourists based on the data from Cruise Lines International Association, while Japan accounted for 8.6 percent.

That fact is significant given that Japan has a population of about 126 million while Taiwan’s is 23 million, the lawmaker said.

Taiwan has more people taking cruises than Japan because the ships offer so many entertainment facilities, especially casinos, he said.

Some cruise line operators even highlight their casinos in their advertisements because they know that gambling is illegal in many Asian countries, he said.

Cruise ship casinos can operate legally when the ships are in international waters.

The government only allows casinos to be built on outlying islands, based on Article 12 of the Offshore Islands Development Act (離島建設條例), but Penghu and Matsu residents have voted overwhelmingly to reject the establishment of casinos on their islands in the referendums held between 2009 and last year, he said.

Kinmen is to hold its first referendum on the issue in October this year, he added.

“We are kidding ourselves if we think there are no gamblers in Taiwan,” Cheng said, adding that many online gaming sites even have funding from Taiwanese investors.

The DPP is against gambling, but the ministry and Tourism Bureau need to study the gambling issue and find out how much money is going to gambling, he said.

Cheng asked the officials if it would be viable for Taiwanese cruise ships departing from outlying islands to offer three-day or two-day tours that allowed gambling in international waters.

Deputy Minister of Transportation and Communications Wang Kwo-tsai (王國材) said that the ministry would review Cheng’s proposals, but the nation needs to reach a consensus on whether gambling at the sea should be allowed.

Wang told the committee that cruise liners registered in Taiwan are considered part of the nation’s territory, meaning that their passengers must still follow the nation’s laws even in the international waters.

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