Record 2.85 million Chinese visited Taiwan last year

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan said on Saturday a record 2.85 million Chinese nationals visited the island last year, up 10 per cent from 2012 although group arrivals dropped slightly after Beijing enacted a tourism law.

The number of solo Chinese travellers surged 174 per cent to 522,000 people compared with 191,000 in 2012, the government said.

But group arrivals fell 4.6 percent to 1.69 million, after Beijing outlawed forced shopping trips prompting operators to raise the price of package tours, officials said.

The dramatic rise in tourist numbers is indicative of the increasingly warm ties between Taiwan and China.

Once bitter foes, Taipei and Beijing have had no official contact in 65 years.

But relations have improved significantly since Preident Ma Ying-jeou of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party came to power in 2008. He was re-elected in January 2012.

This month a minister from Taipei will visit the mainland in the two sides' first official contact in six decades.

The number of tourists visiting Taiwan from the mainland has shot up ever since Taipei lifted a ban on Chinese group tourists in 2008 and allowed solo tourists in mid-2011.

Taiwan further raised its quota for individual travellers to 3,000 a day in December 2013, hoping it will reduce the impact of the ban on forced shopping trips.

China enacted the law to try and stamp out the unpopular industry practice of taking tour groups on trips that were subsidised but took tourists to specific retailers where they were compelled to buy products.

China has replaced Japan to become the biggest source of visitors to Taiwan.

However, Beijing still considers Taiwan part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, even though the sides have been governed separately since the end of a civil war in 1949.