Flight prices tumble as Taiwan continues to lure Chinese

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The Independent Online

The battlelines have been drawn and the first blows landed as Asian airlines fight for the masses of mainland Chinese tourists lining up to travel to Taiwan.

Last week the Chinese Government ordered the country’s airlines to slash ticket prices for flights between the two countries – as relationships continue to thaw after decades of tension and bickering.

More than one million Chinese are expected to fly to Taiwan this year – more than double the 2009 figure – as visas become available for individual travelers. Previously, Chinese could only travel to the island nation as part of tour groups, which were closely monitored, limited in number and usually meant being directed through Hong Kong.

International tourists wanting to travel to Taiwan from China too had to fly to other countries first, instead of flying directly, even though two countries are only separated by a short stretch of water.

But there are now close to 400 flights between mainland Chinese cities and Taiwan. And it is becoming cheaper to make the trip – rapidly.

Xiamen Airlines has this week dropped it ticket prices for the Xiamen and Fuzhou routes to Taipei by about one third – to 1,000 yuan (117 euros) – for the 90-minute flight from those cities. The airline claims booking rates already stand at 88 per cent for the routes – 13 per cent above the industry average.

Hong Kong airlines have apparently already lost as much as 10 per cent of traffic on the Taiwan route.

With Chinese officials claiming around 54 million Chinese will travel overseas in 2010 – up from 47.66 million last year – countries all over the world are working overtime to ensure they get a slice of the action.

Japan last week relaxed its restrictions on mainland Chinese tourists – allowing visas for those who were employed in “middle management’’, or earned more than 5,000 yuan (586 euros) per month. Previously only high-income Chinese earners were allowed to travel to Japan, outside of guided tours.