TAIWAN has long welcomed mainland Chinese tourists – who commonly travel by the busload – at bustling night markets and quaint countryside regions.
Of late, however, the tour buses have been absent as tension between Taiwan and China escalates. Data from the Tourism Bureau revealed the first quarter of the year saw a 10 percent drop in numbers compared to the same period last year.
AFP reported the number of Chinese tourists dipped since Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen took office last May – Tsai’s party is traditionally known to advocate independence from China.
The speculation is that China is deliberately discouraging its citizens from visiting Taiwan by scaling back tourism promotions.
The New York Times (NYT) reported China often uses tourism as a political weapon when tension arises; similar tactics were used in South Korea and Hong Kong as numbers were dragged down in both regions.
Ian Rowen, an assistant professor of geography at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, who is writing a book on Chinese tourism, told the daily: “Beijing has used Chinese tour groups as both carrots and sticks.”
The Chinese make up the biggest visitor group in Taiwan, contributing to 33 percent of the 2016 totals, but the pattern is likely to change in the next few years as numbers from Southeast Asia gradually creep up.
To offset the loss of Chinese visitors, Taiwan is taking measures to lure in more tourists from Southeast Asia, particularly those from Malaysia and Singapore.
For instance, online visa application options have been made available for Southeast Asians while the Philippines and Thailand are already enjoying visa-free privileges.
On top of that, new air routes are being introduced while public announcements in select Taiwanese train stations are being made in Indonesian, Vietnamese, and Thai.
Taipei’s Topology Travel sales director Peter Lin told NYT since the relaxing of visas, inquiries from Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand had more than doubled.
According to Quartz, Taipei is veering away from its China-centric approach that began under former president Ma, who opened the floodgates to tourism from China in 2008.