The first batch of about 290 individual mainland tourists allowed into Taiwan arrived on the island a year ago yesterday as part of a scheme designed to boost tourism.
Original estimates said Taiwan would be able to reap an extra NT$9 billion (HK$2.3 billion) to NT$15 billion a year in tourist revenue if 500 to 1,000 mainland tourists arrived on the island each day for individual visits. The island already makes NT$110 billion a year from group visits by mainland tourists.
But those figures now appear to have been far too optimistic, with the number of solo mainland visitors falling far short of expectations.
Figures released by Taiwan's National Immigration Agency show that as of Sunday, 89,007 mainlanders had come to Taiwan for individual visits since the government of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou opened up the island.
That equates to an average of just 244 individual mainland tourists a day, far less than the 1,000 quota.
Taiwan first permitted 500 mainlanders from Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen to visit the island solo on a trial basis last June and doubled that number in February. The mainland also extended the scheme in April to allow residents of six more cities - Chongqing , Nanjing , Hangzhou , Guangzhou and Chengdu - to apply for individual visits to Taiwan.
The mainland also promised to extend the scheme to Jinan, Xian, Fuzhou and Shenzhen by the end of this year, hoping to increase the number of solo visitors significantly and silence mocking voices from the opposition pro-independence camp in Taiwan.
Ma's decision to allow individual visits has been criticised by the pro-independence camp, which has cast doubt on the government's revenue forecasts. It has also criticised the policy on national security grounds, warning it could allow the mainland authorities to send spies to gather intelligence or sabotage social order.
Taiwanese officials, however, said the number of individual mainland visitors should rise sharply once application procedures were simplified and more mainland cities joined the scheme. 'What we should do at the moment is to simplify the application and travel document issuance procedures as much as possible,' said Hsieh Li-kung, director-general of the National Immigration Agency.
He said more than 103,500 mainlanders had applied for individual visits in the past year - an average of 403 a day. Since March, following the doubling of the quota, the average number of applicants each day has risen to 589.
Travel agent Chen Hui-lun said that besides the troublesome and complicated application procedures on the mainland, it also took at least 10 days for the mainland to approve solo visits, which delayed review and issuance procedures in Taiwan.
Chen said: 'Taiwan's requirement that mainland applicants provide financial or other proofs to guarantee that they will not overstay or remain in Taiwan is also one reason that discourages such visitors.'
Cost was another. A visitor in a five-day group can expect to pay NT$25,000-$50,000, but an individual visit cost at least NT$60,000, Taiwanese travel agents said.
But most of those who have come to Taiwan as individual travellers say the experience has been worthwhile.
'Not only have some places in Taiwan preserved their original Chinese tradition, which can no longer be found on the mainland, but Taiwanese people are extremely friendly and helpful,' said Zhang Wei, a tourist from Shanghai.
'Unlike what I faced in Hong Kong, I was not given any grief even if I ended up not buying anything.'