Solo mainland tourist numbers disappoint

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 August, 2011, 12:00am


Wang Tsung-wei, a cab driver in Taipei, has yet to give a ride to a single mainland tourist, despite expectations of a surge of visitors after a ban on individual travellers was lifted on June 28.

'The government said our business would increase when it allowed solo mainland tourists to visit, but where are they?' Wang asked.

Similar questions have been asked by operators of high-end department stores who have not seen a rise in sales over the past month.

According to statistics released by the Taiwanese Tourism Bureau, just 633 solo mainland tourists travelled to Taiwan in the first month of such visits. Excluding the first day, when 280 individual mainland tourists arrived, the average number of such visitors was about 12 a day, far short of the 500-per-day ceiling permitted by the island's government.

Unenthusiastic travel agencies and too much red tape may explain why so few mainland tourists opted to visit the island outside of tour groups, market operators said.

'It takes at least one to one-and-a-half months to prepare the required documents, including financial statements, household registration records, approval from the mainland police and processing from Taiwanese immigration, making it far too troublesome for solo tourists to come visit,' said tour operator Royce Wang, whose business includes organised visits to Taiwan for mainlanders.

Another reason might be that such visits are expensive. Wang said the cost for an individual visit is often higher than for visitors who come in tour groups. Mainland tourists were allowed to visit Taiwan in groups in July 2008 as part of an effort by mainland-friendly Ma Ying-jeou's administration to improve ties with Beijing. Ma was elected president of Taiwan that year.

Other operators blamed the lack of visitors on insufficient promotion by the island's government in the three cities - Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen - from where residents are allowed to visit Taiwan individually, and some operators cited unavailable plane seats, as well the hot Taiwanese summer, which discourages mainland tourists from visiting.

Taiwan Tourism Bureau Director General Janice Lai, however, said visitor numbers should improve in the coming months, given that more than 12,060 mainland tourists had already obtained approval from mainland authorities to visit Taiwan as of July 27. She said the two travel permits issued by the mainland lasted six months or five years, so some solo tourists might be taking their time, waiting for the most convenient time to visit.