The number of Taiwanese traveling to the US during the first nine months of the year dropped to 296,526, the lowest figure in 20 years for that period, despite Taiwan’s entry to the US visa waiver program (VWP) in November last year, Tourism Bureau data show.
The figure also represented a 22 percent annual decline, said tourism officials, who seemed puzzled by the drop in travel.
Lin Pei-chun, an official with the bureau’s Planning and Research Division, said that while the VWP may have played a role in boosting travel to the US, the effects may have been muted by an overall decrease in interest in long-haul travel.
“Recent global trends suggest that people prefer to travel to nearby countries,” Lin said.
Figures show that travel to Europe by Taiwanese plummeted 55 percent during the first nine months of this year, while travel within Asia increased by 11 percent in the same period, she said.
However, the travel industry remains optimistic about the VWP, which frees Taiwanese from having to obtain a US visa.
“We have not heard any complaints from the travel agencies so far,” deputy head of the Tourism Bureau’s hotel, travel and training division Chen Chiung-hua (陳瓊華) said.
Travel Agents Association secretary-general Roget Hsu (許高慶) said the VWP has driven up travel momentum to the US, although the industry was worried at one point that the rising cost of airline tickets would nullify the positive effects of the program.
However, the association has not conducted any comprehensive review of whether the effects of the VWP have met the travel industry’s expectations, Hsu said.
Immediately after Taiwan’s admission to the VWP was announced in October last year, some travel agencies forecast that travel to the US would surge by 10 to 30 percent. However, the program’s real effects seem to vary from agency to agency.
Comfort Travel Service Co said its US travel market base has tripled compared with last year, while Justfly Travel Co said the program has barely helped its sales.