Although most tourism industry operators said they are ready for Chinese tourists, academics say that services and immigration-related facilities still need to be improved.
President-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has promised to begin direct cross-strait weekend charter flights in July that would allow 3,000 Chinese tourists to visit per day in the initial stages, with the number increasing to 10,000 per day within four years.
Right now, only 1,000 Chinese tourists per day are allowed into Taiwan and they are required to transfer through a third country.
At a public hearing at the Legislative Yuan yesterday, China Airlines (CAL) president Chao Kuo-shuai (趙國帥) said that “China Airlines and EVA Air have been preparing [for direct cross-strait flights] for more than 10 years.”
So have hotel operators and bus companies.
Chiu Hsing-kui (邱祥桂), president of the Republic of China Federation of Hotel Operators, said among the 100,400 hotel rooms in Taiwan, only 60 percent to 70 percent are constantly occupied.
“Chinese tourists can certainly help to fill the rooms that are often not used,” he said.
Hsu Meng-yu (徐夢育), vice president of the Republic of China Federation of Tour Bus Company Operators said that tour bus companies have been preparing since the government announced that Chinese tourists may be allowed several years ago.
On average, a Chinese tourist spends approximately US$2,000 during an eight-day trip, “and the related economic benefit is 2.7 to 3.3 times that amount,” president of the Travel Agent Association of the Republic of China Yao Ta-kuang (姚大光) said.
However, some are still sounding a cautionary note.
Assistant professor at Minchuan University’s School of Tourism, Yang Jyh-yih (楊志義), said that the industry needs to pay more attention to its service.
“The product is ready — but is the service ready? Can we give the guests a convenient, safe and comfortable trip? Do we have enough certified tour guides?” he asked.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) told the industry not to put all its hope in new Chinese tourists.
“Of course Chinese tourists will help boost our tourism industry, but what if the Chinese government decides to stop their people from traveling to Taiwan for some reason? Are all the investments going to be in vain?” she said. “We do need to invest more to improve the quality of our tourism sector — not just for Chinese tourists, but for tourists from all countries.”
In related news, the Taipei City Government’s deputy secretary-general Chen Yoong-ren (陳永仁) said yesterday the city government, in order to lure more Chinese tourists to Taipei, is cooperating with the Taoyuan County Government to plan a tour package featuring activities and sights relating to dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his son, Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國).
The city will also create shopping and gourmet tour packages to attract Chinese tourists once they begin visiting the nation, Chen said during a meeting at Taipei City Hall.
Wu Chyou-mei (吳秋美), vice director of the city’s Department of Information and Tourism, said Chinese tourists are expected to bring annual revenues of NT$17 billion for the city.
Besides planning tour packages, Wu said the city government would also advise on the renewal and expansion of hotels and was looking to provide more than 4,000 hotel rooms for Chinese tourists by 2010.
Additional reporting Mo Yan-chih