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Summer in Taiwan, living not easy

Updated: 08 16 , 2016 14:46
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KENTING, Taiwan, Aug. 13 -- It pains Chen Sheng-tsung to walk out of the front door of his small hotel on the busiest street in Kenting, a popular seaside resort in southern Taiwan.

Only last year, Chen's rooms were fully occupied by tourists from the Chinese mainland but now a "Vacancies" board hangs by his door almost every night, a humiliating declaration that hard times have arrived.

Many small tourist hotels on the island share the same fate as Chen's. The flow of mainland tourists has been reduced to a trickle since Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) came to power.


Summer is usually the high tourist season in the eastern part of the island, but the summer of 2016 has been a bleak one for those whose livelihoods depend on holiday-makers.

According to Taiwan's tourist agency, the number of mainland tourists to visit Taiwan in May and June decreased by more than 80,000 from last year.

Helena Tang is a manager at Yeliu Geopark, famous for its Queen's Head Rock. She told Xinhua that around 4,000 mainlanders visited the park every day last year. This year the number is closer to 2,000.

Hotels and travel agencies are not the only ones to suffer. Coach companies, tour guides, shop and restaurant owners are also feeling the squeeze. A souvenir seller at a park in Kenting told Xinhua that her income had shrunk by nearly 70 percent this year. And the worst may be yet to come.

Since the ban on traveling to the island was lifted in 2008, the number of mainland tourists has climbed steadily. More than 1.2 million visited in 2010, and the number rose to 4.2 million last year.

These mainlanders do not go to Taiwan just to paddle in the sea and admire the scenery. Last year each of them spent around 227 U.S. dollars every day.

Hotels have been built. Tour companies have expanded. And beneficiaries include bus and taxi drivers, tour guides, wait staff, souvenir sellers, entertainers, car hire clerks, museum and cinema staff, ice-cream makers, even beggars.

The list of Taiwanese people who have seen their incomes and opportunities grow since mainlanders began to flood into the island eight years ago is almost endless. If nothing changes, many of these people will lose their jobs, their livelihoods and their hope.

Johnny Tseng of Ezfly International Travel said that 90 percent of his company's clients are from the mainland.

The tourism industry wants change and needs it to happen soon.


Chen I-chuan, secretary-general of the island's Travel Quality Assurance Association, believes mainlanders are enthusiastic about traveling in Taiwan because, in addition to its beautiful scenery, they are emotionally attached to their island compatriots and the sentiment across the Taiwan Strait is good.

In just a few short months, so much has changed.

Tsai Ing-wen refuses to recognize the 1992 Consensus that enshrines the one-China policy and is the basis for all the good that has come out of cross-Strait relations in the past few years. Tsai's incomprehensible attitude has left mainlanders feeling both puzzled and unwelcome.

For years now, the island has been among the top five destination choices for mainlanders heading overseas for festivals and holidays. During last week's "Qixi," a traditional festival similar to Valentine's Day, Taiwan did not even make the top ten.

In addition to the adverse political situation, the discovery that a tour bus accident last month which killed 23 mainland tourists and their tour guide was caused by the bus driver being drunk, has not helped.

Ringo Lee, spokesperson for the Travel Agents Association, said that in normal circumstances, it can take a few months for the market to recover from the negative effects of a major incident. In a volatile political atmosphere, the effects are sure to last much longer.

Lee said that until authorities normalize cross-Strait relations, local residents will continue to suffer.


The island's tourism agency is doing its best to encourage visitors from other places, notably Japanand the Republic of Korea, to take up the slack left by the missing mainlanders, and indeed the overall number of tourists to the island climbed 3.2 percent in May before contracting again in June.

Though optimistic about tourist expansion from other sources, Chen I-chuan believes mainland tourists could and should be the mainstay of the sector for years to come.

The continued decline of mainland tourists should not be underestimated since they have been counted in millions in the past few years. According to Chen, a contraction of just 10 percent -- the current situation -- could do untold harm to the entire industry.

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