Solo travelers to US to double: agents

HASSLE-FREE HOLIDAYS::The US is a top destination for independent Taiwanese travelers and the travel industry is now working out how to better cater to them

Staff writer, with CNA

Sat, Oct 06, 2012 - Page 4

The number of independent Taiwanese travelers to the US could double after the country’s inclusion in the US Visa-Waiver Program, thanks to the easier and cheaper documenting process, local travel agents said yesterday.

The new program could be especially appealing to individual travelers, as they are more likely to have more flexible arrangements and budgets, according to the Travel Agent Association of the Republic of China.

The travel industry is expecting an overall increase in the number of US-bound tourists of least 30 percent, which could lead to more than 600,000 departures per year from next year, said Roget Hsu (許高慶), secretary-general of the association, who added that this could lead to additional competition in the industry.

Among the about 400,000 Taiwanese tourists who travel to the US each year, the ratio of independent-to-group travelers has been estimated at about one-to-four, Hsu said.

The figure is very significant compared with other travel destinations, which are dominated overwhelmingly by group tours, he added.

Consequently, local travel agencies said they have been sounding out airline companies and institutions that offer study abroad programs to further diversify travel options for independent travelers.

“We will be eyeing individual tourists at the upcoming travel fair to test the market potential,” said Chen Chung-ming, US travel manager at Lion Travel Service, referring to the Taipei International Travel Fair to be held from Oct. 26 to Oct. 29.

Under the Visa-Waiver Program, Taiwanese nationals are to be able to visit the US from November without a visa, but will still need to apply for electronic travel authorization at the cost of US$14. The authorization is to be be valid for a two-year period.

Currently, Taiwanese travelers have to pay NT$4,800 (US$160) to apply for a US visa.