Call of rea­son beck­on­ing Tsai to act now

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

The num­ber of Chi­nese main­land vis­i­tors to Tai­wan keeps shrink­ing even with the main­land’s week­longNa­tional Day hol­i­day be­ing round the cor­ner.

WhenMa Ying-jeou was the leader, the is­land used to be a pop­u­lar hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion for many main­land tourists. The sit­u­a­tion changed soon af­terMa’s suc­ces­sor Tsai Ing-wen, known for her equiv­o­ca­tion on the 1992 Con­sen­sus and the one-China prin­ci­ple, as­sumed of­fice onMay 20.

Last week, more than 15,000 work­ers from the hos­pi­tal­ity and tourism in­dus­tries took to the streets in Taipei, de­mand­ing the is­land au­thor­i­ties change their poli­cies, in or­der to help the ail­ing in­dus­try. Even if the num­ber of tourists from the Repub­lic of Korea in­creases by 100 per­cent, it can­not make up for a 5 or 10per­cent drop in main­land vis­i­tors, ac­cord­ing to a spokesper­son for Tai­wan Travel Agent As­so­ci­a­tion.

The num­ber of main­land tourists vis­it­ing the is­land on group tours re­port­edly fell 8 per­cent from Jan­uary to July, af­fect­ing the is­land’s econ­omy and peo­ple’s liveli­hoods. For ex­am­ple, many tour guides now face un­em­ploy­ment, and their monthly in­come can be as low as only one-fifth of what it was whileMa was in of­fice. That’s why tourism and hos­pi­tal­ity work­ers took to streets to urge Tsai to honor the 1992 Con­sen­sus.

In re­sponse, Tsai and her Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party came up with the “new­south­ward pol­icy” en­cour­ag­ing the is­land’s tourism sec­tor to tap the mar­kets in South­east Asia, in a bid to fill the void left by main­land tourists.

But such a move is no more than a wish­ful think­ing, and will make lit­tle dif­fer­ence to the shrink­ing tourism and hos­pi­tal­ity busi­nesses on the is­land. It will take more than lip ser­vice to trans­form the tourism sec­tor. For ex­am­ple, of the over 37,000 lo­cal tour guides, nearly 30,000, or 78 per­cent, mainly speak Chi­nese. So they are not ready to pro­vide tai­lor-made ser­vices to vis­i­tors from South­east Asia.

Be­sides, tourists from the main­land are ir­re­place­able for the is­land’s tourism and hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tors in terms of their num­ber and con­sump­tion ca­pac­ity. A record 4.15 mil­lion main­land res­i­dents vis­ited the other side of the Tai­wan Straits last year, mak­ing up al­most 40 per­cent of all tourists to the is­land and con­tribut­ing nearly 230 bil­lion newTai­wan dol­lars ($7.3 bil­lion) to its econ­omy.

It is es­ti­mated that the drop in the num­ber of main­land vis­i­tors will cost the is­land at least 36 bil­lion newTai­wan dol­lars this year. Since fur­ther slump in the num­ber of main­land vis­i­tors is feared, Tsai needs to re­viewher “new south­ward pol­icy”, for it in­tends to sac­ri­fice the lu­cra­tive main­land mar­ket.

About 133 mil­lion main­land tourists are ex­pected to travel abroad in 2016, up 11.5 per­cent year-on-year, says a re­port is­sued by the China Tourism Academy andUnionPay In­ter­na­tional ear­lier this month. Des­ti­na­tions pop­u­lar with main­land res­i­dents, in­clud­ing Ja­pan and the ROK, have done ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to at­tract more main­land tourists, while Tai­wan seems de­ter­mined to go the other way.

Tsai’s “look south” pol­icy is un­likely to rid the is­land’s tourism sec­tor of its suf­fer­ings. Early Oc­to­ber is the main­land’s tra­di­tional travel sea­son. This year, it could see the be­gin­ning of a tourism cri­sis for Tai­wan if more main­land hol­i­day­mak­ers spend the week­long hol­i­day else­where. It is time Tsai changed her stance on crossS­traits ties to re­vive the is­land’s tourism sec­tor.

The au­thor is a pro­fes­sor at the In­sti­tute of Tai­wan Stud­ies, Bei­jing Union Univer­sity.

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