The Tourism Bureau yesterday confirmed that 152 Vietnamese tourists had been reported missing after entering the nation through Kaohsiung on a special tourism visa last week.
The tourists had joined tours arranged by the ETHoliday travel agency, with one group arriving on Friday and three on Sunday, the bureau said.
The tours had 153 Vietnamese, 152 of which left the groups after their arrival in Taiwan, the bureau said, adding that ETHoliday quickly reported the incident.
Given the severity of the situation, the bureau said it has instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to stop granting visas to Vietnamese travelers in ETHoliday tour groups.
The tourists were able to travel to Taiwan through the ministry’s “Kuan Hung Pilot Project,” an electronic visa program designed to increase the number of quality tour groups visiting from India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, the bureau said, adding that these countries are part of the government’s New Southbound Policy.
The project, which was launched in 2015, allows travelers from the six countries on package tours of at least five people to apply for tourism visas without having to present financial statements, the bureau said.
Over the past three years, about 150 tourists arriving through the project have been reported missing, bureau statistics showed.
This was the largest group of runaway tourists since 2015, it said.
Only one Vietnamese tourist on an ETHoliday tour in the past three years has left the group and been unaccounted for, bureau statistics showed.
The travel agency in Vietnam that assists ETHoliday in forming the tour groups has lost tourists 10 times, but only one or two people each time.
The bureau said that tourists found later by immigration officials would be deported at ETHoliday’s expense.
In other developments, the number of tourists traveling between Kinmen and China’s Fujian Province via the “small three links” is expected to reach 1.85 million this year, up from 1.78 million, the Maritime Port Bureau said yesterday, adding that this would be a record high since the links opened in 2001.
The port authority said it has had 12 cases of tourists traveling via the links who carried in pork products from China without reporting them to customs, adding that they were fined because of an African swine fever outbreak, but before the government raised the fine to a minimum of NT$200,000.
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