TAIPEI • Along the beautiful Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan's Nantou county, a rock carved with the lake's name on it awaits visitors amid a winter chill at the signature tourism site.
The rock used to be an extremely popular site among Chinese mainland visitors, who often came in huge numbers and lined up to take a picture with the three words "Sun Moon Lake", an iconic site that even children on the mainland are familiar with.
But these days, only a few individual tourists come to admire the lake. The lull followed the election of Taiwan's new leader Tsai Ing-wen, who assumed office in 2016. President Tsai has refused to adhere to the 1992 Consensus, angering people on both sides of the strait.
According to the local authorities, the number of mainland tourists to Taiwan was more than 4.18 million in 2015. But after Ms Tsai was elected, the number plunged below 2.73 million last year, down more than 30 per cent.
The Sun Moon Lake took one of the biggest hits. According to local newspaper The China Times, Nantou county saw its tourist numbers fall by 1.27 million last year. Average hotel bookings in Nantou were down by about 20 per cent.
Meanwhile, the Sun Moon Lake recorded about 2.98 million tourists in the first half of this year, down by more than 300,000 compared to the same period last year.
The disappointing performance has affected businesses operating near the lake.
The China Times said the most popular tea egg store near the lake, Grandma's Mushroom Tea Egg, used to sell up to 3,000 eggs a day during the holidays a few years ago. Now, it is difficult to sell 2,000 a day during the holidays.
"We are in desperate need of mainland tourists," said a woman surnamed Wang, who has been selling ice cream in a commercial area near the lake for 10 years.
Near Madam Wang's store were some speciality shops, with only a few customers in sight. Some shops are even offering "free food" to attract more customers.
"The lack of visitors also impacted the accommodation business in Nantou," said Mr Tim Chen, head of Doris Home, a cat-themed homestay near the lake.
"Our homestay was not affected very much, but I do know that many hotels in Nantou are facing very difficult times," he said.
Ms Lai Seh-jen, a former member of the Taiwan Strait Tourism Association, said the industry must rely on itself to survive, rather than depend on Taiwan's current administration.
"Tourism is a big industry in Taiwan," Ms Lai said. "It is important to safeguard cross-strait tourism cooperation to boost its development."