Protest in Taipei over fewer tourists

Mainland arrivals down 22% since Tsai took office as Beijing reportedly cut visitor quotas

Protesters from travel agencies, hotels and restaurants, among other businesses, brandishing banners and placards yesterday. They want Taipei to do more to boost tourist arrivals from the mainland.
Protesters from travel agencies, hotels and restaurants, among other businesses, brandishing banners and placards yesterday. They want Taipei to do more to boost tourist arrivals from the mainland. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Some 20,000 workers from Tai- wan's struggling tourism sector braved the rain as they took to the streets to demand more government efforts to boost flagging tourist numbers from the mainland.

Yesterday's protest march, organised by the Tourism Industry Alliance, was the first by the sector, which has been badly hit by dwindling Chinese tour groups since independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen took office in May.

In a show of solidarity, the protesters - from travel agencies, hotels and restaurants, among other businesses - stood in the rain, singing songs and shouting slogans such as "Survival, jobs and a living wage" and "No pay, no life".

At least 50 of about 400 local tour agencies that cater to mainland Chinese tourists are said to be downsizing to cut costs. Businesses selling popular local snacks like pineapple shortcakes have also been badly hit.

During the three-hour march, which ended in front of the Presidential Office Building, protesters performed skits depicting their plight and hard times.

Mr Lee Chi-yueh, a spokesman for the alliance, formed by 11 tourism-related groups, said the group wants the government to listen to its appeals. "We just want to make a living. We know the government has its limitations, but surely it can do something to get more people to come here," he said.

The protesters want, among other things, the government to revive cross-strait travel by advertising more in China and expanding tourism markets for home-grown firms.

The protest comes days after the government announced that it will offer NT$30 billion (S$1.3 billion) in loans to help the struggling sector cope better with declining Chinese tourist arrivals.

But one of yesterday's participants, Mr Jonathan Pan of Stone Travel Agency, said the solution is not only about throwing money at the problem.

"Giving us money is not the silver bullet in the long run. We are capable of working and willing to work hard. But if not one (tourist) is coming, what kind of work can we do?"

Since May, the total number of Chinese visitors to Taiwan has fallen by 22.3 per cent, according to Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council.

While 4.1 million Chinese tourists from the mainland visited Taiwan last year, only less than half the number is expected this year, based on government estimates.

The current situation is a far cry from that between last November and February this year, when up to 16,000 Chinese tourists came to Taiwan daily.

But after Ms Tsai won the presidential election in January, Beijing reportedly cut the quota in March, allowing only 10,000 to travel to Taiwan a day. And it reportedly may cut cross-strait travel quotas for tour groups and independent travellers further.

Besides a drop in Chinese tourist numbers, tour agencies here say that Chinese visitors are spending much less. While each tourist used to spend NT$30,000 (S$1,300) on a seven-day trip, it is likely to be no more than NT$10,000 these days.

Yesterday's protest is the latest in a string of anti-government protests that have been held.

On Sept 3, some 150,000 retired military personnel, police officers, civil servants and school teachers took part in a march to protest against the government's reform plans to cut their pensions, which they called unfair and humiliating to their professions.

Cabinet spokesman Tung Cheng- yuan yesterday said the government would pool resources to help tourism operators and the parts of Taiwan that are badly hit by the declining arrivals. Measures include bailing out affected industries and helping them to transform.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2016, with the headline Protest in Taipei over fewer tourists. Subscribe