Mainland tourist slump in Taiwan after tour ban

Sun Moon Lake, situated in Nantou County’s Yuchi Township, near the centre of Taiwan, offers one of the more scenic trails for cyclists.

Sun Moon Lake, the alpine lake in central Taiwan that is often abuzz with mainland Chinese tourists this time of the year, is unusually quiet.

Restaurant owners, shop assistants and tour coach drivers elsewhere in Taiwan are also finding themselves with a lot of free time this week, which is China's National Day Golden Week holiday.

Mainland tourist arrivals have dropped by 24 per cent compared with the same period last year, since a new Chinese regulation banning ultra-cheap shopping tours took effect on Tuesday, figures from Taiwan's tourism bureau show. Such shopping-oriented package tours are the bread-and-butter of the mainland Chinese travel market here.

The situation is causing concern, because mainland Chinese are the biggest source of tourism dollars for Taiwan.

There were 7.3 million tourist arrivals here last year, of which 35 per cent - or 2.6 million - came from China. Mr Hsu Hao-yuan, president of the National Joint Association of Buses for Tourists, noted that 2,000 of its coaches used to ply the roads every day. These days, 600 of the buses are idle.

"This translates into a loss of between NT$120 million and NT$140 million a month for us," Mr Hsu told The Straits Times. NT$120 million is about S$5million.

Quay Recreation, the biggest cruise ship operator in the Sun Moon Lake area, received about 25 mainland tourist groups on Monday, company spokesman Liu Chih-hang told Taiwanese media. The average number last year was 50 a day.

For Xin Shan Wei restaurant, it served more than 20 groups a day last year compared with as few as five this week, proprietor Chou Chia-wei told the China Times daily. Under China's new tourism regulation, travel agencies that sign up customers for cheap tours bundled with coercive shopping can be fined up to 300,000 yuan (S$61,000) or have their licences revoked. 

This has led operators to raise tour prices, now that they can no longer rely on shopping commission to subsidise costs.

Mr Shen Lih-ben, president of the Kaoshiung association of travel agents, told the United Daily News that the standard eight days, seven nights round-island tour of Taiwan now costs 6,000 to 7,000 yuan - almost double the previous rates.

According to the tourism bureau, 11,011 mainland Chinese on group tours arrived on Tuesday and Wednesday, compared with 14,412 in the same period last year.

There have been reports of "resourceful" tour guides directing tourists to toilets located near shops, in the hope that they might buy something.

Most operators are waiting for the dust to settle over the new ruling. Many are optimistic about the measure's positive impact in the long run. Said Mr Hsu: "Personally, I support the change, although we may be hit in the short term. In the long run, tourists will be able to better enjoy Taiwan's great scenery... After all, they come here to sightsee, not shop."

seokhwai@sph.com.sg


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