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Mainland tourists shunning Taiwan

By LUO WANGSHU | China Daily | Updated: 2016-09-28 07:23

Taiwan is expected to see fewer mainland tourists during the upcoming National Day holiday, as cross-Straits relations remain in stalemate.

Bookings for trips to Taiwan during the holiday from Oct 1 to Oct 7, also known as the Golden Week, dropped by 20 to 30 percent from last year, according to the China Youth Travel Service, a major tourism operator in China.

Meanwhile, Taiwan tourism professionals are predicting that the number of mainland travelers may drop by 44 percent year-on-year in 2016, according to media reports.

"The decline is mainly from group tourists, up to a 30 to 40 percent drop," said Li Zhi, general manager of the Taiwan center of China Youth Travel Service, adding that the number of tourists traveling independently has risen, but the rate of increase has slowed compared with previous years.

About 1,000 clients booked through the service for the Golden Week holiday, including group trips, hotels and document preparation.

Since 2008, when the island opened up to mainland travelers, the number of independent tourists had increased by at least 15 to 20 percent. But this year, the rise is only about 10 to 15 percent, Li said.

He added that seats usually are sold out before September, but this year seats have remained untaken right before the holiday at month's end.

Ctrip, a major online travel services provider, also has seen the change. The company reported that reservations to Taiwan have dropped. It also predicted that Taiwan's tourism-dependent businesses may have their "coldest" Golden Week during this National Day holiday.

"The preparation time needed to visit Taiwan has been reduced, mainly because there are no lines for the entry pass. Previously, customers during Golden Week in October booked six to eight weeks in advance, but now they can book four weeks before," said Sun Yu, head of the Taiwan region for Ctrip.

A travel advisory from the company called Taiwan "a good choice for tourists who want to avoid popular destinations and seek peace and quiet."

Taiwan's China Times newspaper reported this month that the island saw 30,771 mainland visitors during the National Day holiday in 2014 and 35,891 visitors last year. However, Taiwan tourism professionals have predicted that the number may drop below 20,000 this year, 44.3 percent less than last year.

Mainland tourism industry officials said the decline is mainly due to difficult cross-Straits relations and a number of negative incidents since May 20, such as a fatal bus fire and the erroneous launch of a missile that hit a fishing boat, killing the captain and injuring three of the crew.

"Group tourists who are mainly above 40 years old are affected mostly. They are more sensitive to politics. Comparatively, young travelers are less keen on politics, but the negative information in some ways also affects them," Li from the China Youth Travel Service said.

The number of mainland visitors to the island has plummeted since Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen took office in May. According to Taiwan authorities, mainland tourists in group tours declined by about 30 percent year-on-year in the period from May through July.

Liu Xiangping, head of the Institute of Taiwan Studies at Nanjing University, said the island's authority has contributed to an atmosphere that has "convinced" residents that visitors from the mainland are not well-behaved tourists.

"The attitude makes mainland travelers feel unwelcome and lose interest in Taiwan," he said.

For example, Liu said, the Taiwan government poorly handled the recent bus fire incident that killed 24 tourists from the mainland. "Especially, Tsai treated the victims from Taiwan and the mainland differently, which hurt mainlanders' feelings."

Tsai sent a condolence inscription to the memorial service of Cheng Kun-wen, the Taiwan tour guide killed in the incident, yet failed to do so for the 24 mainland tourists. Taiwan officials claimed they didn't receive such requests. Investigators concluded that the driver, who also died, intentionally caused the deadly incident.

The decline of mainland tourists has moved those in the Taiwan tourism industry to action.

In mid-September, more than 15,000 hospitality and tourism workers in Taiwan took to the streets in downtown Taipei, demanding the island's authorities do something about the weakness in the industry.

"The government has refused to acknowledge the 1992 Consensus since taking office in May. This has damaged all the hard work toward peaceful relations across the Taiwan Straits," said Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman of the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, in an earlier statement. "Whoever started the trouble should end it."

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