Friday, June 3, 2011

Free and Independent Travel Policy Promotes Understanding

Free and Independent Travel Policy Promotes Understanding
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
June 3, 2011

Beginning in July this year, the streets of Taiwan may be filled with Mainland tourists who have chosen not to be part of a tour group. These Mainland tourists want to be free of the restrictions imposed by tour groups. What will they learn about Taiwan after they are allowed to move about freely? Will local people get to know a different kind of Mainland tourist?

The Executive Yuan has announced that by the end of June, Mainland tourists will be permitted to move about Taiwan freely and independently. This is what the tourism related industries expect. This has also been the stated objective of the government since 2008, when it first opened Taiwan to tourists from the Mainland. The Tourism Bureau has already begun preliminary planning. The daily quota will be set at 500 people. Pilot cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Xiamen will be opened up first. The Tourism Bureau will make an iniitial assessment. This new policy of openess will enable businesses on Taiwan to do 9 to 15 billion NT a year in business.

Business owners have been quick to react. Many began making investments a long time ago. They welcome the business opportunities brought about by Mainland tourists able to move about freely. According to CEPD statistics, between now and 2013, 34 tourist hotels will invest 75.5 billion NT. Regular hotels will invest 8 billion NT. These measures will create 17,000 jobs. Also, to welcome Mainland tourists, 22 travel related companies are currently building or expanding. Total investments amount to 24 billion NT. An estimated 5,600 new jobs will be created. Why are these companies making such large investments? The answer of course, is that they are optimistic about the business opportunities created by continued opening to Mainland tourists.

The manufacturing industry has declined. Since then, investments and employment opportunities of this scale on Taiwan have been rare. Needless to say, many people have high expectations. In fact, the Taiwan Stock Exchange is already offering "Mainland Tourist Free and Independent Travel Stocks." The ramifications of the Mainland Tourist Free and Independent Travel Policy are becoming more and more obvious. Share prices of these companies have already gone up. When Taiwan was first opened up to tourists from the Mainland, many opponents argued that the baseline target of 3000 people a day could not be reached. They even doubted that Mainland tourists visiting Taiwan would contribute much to the economy. Reality has demonstrated that Mainland tourists are extremely important to Taiwan's economy.

Prior to opening, the Tourism Bureau conservatively estimated that Mainland tourists visiting Taiwan would bring tourism and related industries 200 billion NT in increased revenue per year. But according to estimates by the Tourism Bureau under the Ministry of Transportation and the National Immigration Department, last year (2010) the number of Mainland tourists who visited Taiwan reached 1.63 million. This represents a 68% increase over the same period last year. Among these, Mainland tourists accounted for 1.17 million person-visits. This represents a 98% increase over the same period two years ago. According to DGBAS estimates, last year Mainland tourists visiting Taiwan contributed 650 billion NT to our GDP. Mainland tourists increased our economic growth rate by 0.28%. In 2008, Mainland tourists arrived at the rate of 300 people a day. In 2009 the average was 1686 people a day. The number of Mainland tourists has steadily risen. In response, beginning this year, the number of Mainland tourists permitted to visit Taiwan per day has been increased from 3000 per day to 4000 per day. Businesses say the number is still not high enough. They are asking for an even larger quota.

Permitting Mainland tourists to visit Taiwan offers economic benefits. But over the past three years, a variety of incidents have occurred. For example, some tourists have worn helmets during their visits to Taroko Gorge. The miniature train at Alishan has derailed. Many people on Taiwan routinely feel a sense of superiority relative to Mainland tourists. These incidents shook their self-confidence, and provided them with an opportunity for self-introspection. People on Taiwan and Mainland tourists have a complex feelings about each other. This makes it easy to touch a sensitive nerve. Familiarity and acceptance require time and tolerance. Practically speaking, given large numbers of Mainland tourists, feelings, logic, justice, and profits all play a role. Taiwan will find it difficult to resist.

The Free and Independent Travel Policy liberates the individual tourist from group tour constraints. Mainland tourists enjoy greater freedom. They are better able to gain a genuine understanding of the common man on Taiwan. Many believe the policy will increase business opportunities for the travel industry. It offers a mode of travel that will benefit many more people. Many people on Taiwan are entering the medical tourism, precision farming, and other cultural creative industries. They are attracted by the opportunities presented by Mainland tourists under the Free and Independent Travel Policy.

Various non-traditional travel and tourism industries are entering the field. This demonstrates the influence of Mainland tourists. It also demonstrates Taiwan's strengths. Decades of democracy and freedom, of open and pluralistic development, have created a class of "small is beautiful" professionals. Taiwan may lack great mountains and rivers. But Taiwan offers a wide variety of lifestyles and a rich cultural atmosphere. Tourists enjoy visiting. Much of its beauty and many of its attractions cannot be comprehended by tourists in a hurry. Taiwan is better suited to a different kind of tourism that stresses taste, feel, and atmosphere. Some Mainland tourists will opt for the Free and Independent Travel approach. They are more concerned about experiencing the locale. They hope to immerse themselves in the culture. These travelers are more fully prepared. They will explore the alleys and backstreets of Taiwan. They will stay at B&Bs with local color. They will experience aspects of Taiwan that are not intentionally put on display. Friends from the Mainland may find many charms not listed in the travel brochures.

Allowing Mainland tourists to travel more freely and independently demonstrates our self-confidence and enthusiasm. We hope compatriates on both sides of the Strait will get to know each other better, and learn to respect and cherish each other more.

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