[photopress:tourism_Ma_Ying_jeou.JPG,full,alignright]It seems likely that with the easing of tensions between the mainland and Taiwan then we can look forward to something of a tourist boom. Hoteliers and guides and restaurants plainly think this is a good thing.
However, the prospect of a mainland tourist invasion has not been view throughout with unalloyed delight.
Skeptics say only a few privileged businesses would benefit, and that the island’s scenic spots could be spoiled by greedy developers and a tourist stampede.
Long off-limits to the mainland Taiwan is now popular among mainland tourists for its scenery, preservation of Chinese tradition and for historical sites.
Chinese tourists were first officially admitted to Taiwan in 2002. But visits are capped at 1,000 a day, and tourists must travel to the island via third locations because of restrictions on direct cross-strait flights.
If Ma Ying-jeou, the president-elect, (seen looking dashing in our illustration) has his way, that will change.
Ma, who takes office on May 20, has promised to reach an agreement on more Chinese tourists and weekend cross-strait charter flights by early July, expanding to weekday charters by the end of the year and regularly scheduled flights by summer 2009. All this is part of his election pledge to stimulate the island’s laggard economy with closer cross-strait economic ties.
Under the plan, the cap would be tripled to 3,000 Chinese tourists a day, or more than 1 million per year. Last year, 320,169 mainlanders visited Taiwan, only 81,900 of whom officially came as tourists. The rest were listed as business travelers or ‘others.’
In a few years, Ma hopes, the cap could rise to 10,000 tourist visits per day.
Tourist revenues will have benefits throughout the economy, he says, especially helping lower- and middle-income Taiwanese in the service sector.
The investment bank CLSA estimates that if 1 million Chinese tourists visit Taiwan each year they will spend $1.3 billion, and help boost GDP by up to 1.4% of 2007 levels.
Not everyone has such a rosy view. Some point out that the economic benefits will not be spread around, because Chinese tend to travel to Taiwan in regimented tour groups that only stop at contracted businesses.