Taiwan sees more tourists as arrivals from China drop

Visitors at Taipei's Calla Lily Festival on April 3. Taiwan will grant easier access to more Asean and South Asian tourists.
Visitors at Taipei's Calla Lily Festival on April 3. Taiwan will grant easier access to more Asean and South Asian tourists.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Greater promotion efforts, visa waivers draw more visitors from Asean and other countries

Taiwan's efforts to wean itself off dependence on mainland Chinese tourists appear to be paying off, as a rise in the number of tourists from elsewhere made up for a drop in those from China last year.

Overall, the island saw a 2.4 per cent year-on-year growth in tourist arrivals to 10.7 million last year.

As a result of greater promotion efforts, Taiwan last year welcomed more visitors from Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea, its top three tourist markets.

In fact, according to the International Air Transport Association, the busiest international air route, based on last year's passenger numbers, is Hong Kong-Taipei.

Taiwan also had more visitors from the United States, France, Britain, Australia and India.

  • TOURIST NUMBERS LAST YEAR

  • 2.4%

    Year-on-year growth in tourist arrivals last year.

    10.7m

    Number of visitors to Taiwan last year.

 

There was a greater flow of visitors from South-east Asia to Taiwan last year, too, with tourist arrivals from four Asean countries registering double-digit growth.

According to the latest statistics from the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, 195,640 tourists came from Thailand last year, a 57.3 per cent jump from 2015.

The growth came after Taiwan introduced visa-free travel privileges, on a one-year trial basis, to Thailand and Brunei last year.

Account manager Aie Pitchawan, 26, who spent the Thai New Year, Songkran, in Taipei this weekend, said: "Applying for a visa used to be such a chore and a turn-off but now we can just hop on a flight even for the weekend to eat and shop at the night markets, which have a lot of interesting things."

This visa-waiver trial, which comes under Taiwan's New Southbound Policy to increase links with South-east Asia, will be extended for another year.

Last Wednesday, the Foreign Affairs Ministry announced that it will grant easier access for tourists coming from more Asean and South Asian countries.

The Philippines will be added to the visa-free year-long trial from June, while those from India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos will only have to apply online for a Taiwan travel authorisation certificate instead of a visa.

The tourism bureau's director-general Chou Yung-hui predicted that the visa-waiver programme would likely increase the number of Filipino tourist arrivals by a third to about 230,000.

The trial visa scheme has been a boon for tour operators, who have seen tour groups from Thailand increase by as much as 30 per cent.

Tour consultant Ringo Lee, who is trying to hire more Thai-speaking guides, said: "We have been getting many calls from our Thai counterparts to come up with more itineraries for Taipei and other parts of Taiwan."

In contrast, more mainland Chinese tourists have been giving Taiwan a miss - with overall tourist arrivals from China dropping by 16 per cent to 3.5 million last year.

This came after Beijing reportedly restricted the flow of tourists from China to Taiwan, to signal its unhappiness with President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party.

Ms Tsai did not acknowledge the 1992 Consensus - a tacit agreement between the two sides that there is one China - during her inauguration speech in May last year, prompting Beijing to cut official contact, tourist flows and exchanges.

According to a local media report, mainland Chinese tourist arrivals to Taiwan between May last year and February have dropped by 1.12 million from the same period a year earlier. This led to a loss of more than NT$55 billion (S$2.5 billion).

Downplaying the decline, the tourism bureau points to the NT$42.8 billion revenue generated by non-Chinese visitors.

The gap is likely to be reduced, said Mr Chou, citing new measures to boost tourism, including offering subsidies of NT$20,000 to NT$150,000 for incentive travel tour groups from Asean, South Asia, Australia and New Zealand, subject to certain conditions.

Australian software engineer James Quine, 38, who is touring Taipei and the eastern coastal city of Hualien this week with three friends, said: "While Tokyo and places like Kuala Lumpur and Singapore offer great food, sights and culture, Taipei feels like a more laid-back city with really friendly people and a balance of good party places and hiking trails."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 16, 2017, with the headline 'Taiwan sees more tourists as arrivals from China drop'. Print Edition | Subscribe