Taiwan 'shocked' as China solo travellers stay home

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The Independent Travel

Taiwan's travel operators said Thursday they were "shocked" that fewer than 600 solo Chinese tourists had visited the island since a ban on such travel was lifted a month ago.

Official data showed that since the ban was lifted on June 28 587 individual Chinese travellers had arrived in Taiwan, only slightly more than the daily quota of 500.

"We didn't expect the quota to be met right away, but we are shocked that so few solo tourists have come so far," said Roger Hsu, secretary general of the Travel Agent Association.

Travel between Taiwan and China stopped at the end of the civil war in 1949, and mainland tourists were previously only allowed to visit Taiwan in groups due to official concerns they might overstay their visas to work illegally.

Hsu said local travel agencies were probably not enthusiastic about promoting individual tourism, considered high-risk and low-profit, as they could be suspended if anyone goes missing.

Taiwanese authorities had estimated individual Chinese tourists would generate up to Tw$19.5 billion ($673 million) in additional tourism income each year, providing a significant boost to the local holiday industry.

It was unclear if that estimate would have to be adjusted downwards in light of the new data.

Travel between the two sides has boomed since Beijing-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou came to power in 2008 in Taiwan, pledging to boost trade links and tourism.

A blanket ban on mainland Chinese travel to Taiwan was lifted by the two sides the same year.

Last year, more than 1.63 million Chinese visited Taiwan - most of them on organised group tours - a rise of 67 percent from a year before, making China the biggest source of visitors to the island, according to Taipei.

Beijing still considers self-ruled Taiwan part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

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