Mainland Chinese Likely To Surpass Japanese As Top Taiwan Visitors For First Time

Island Expects To Receive 1.2 Million Tourists And Businesspeople In 2010

Mainland Chinese visitors will outnumber Japanese for the first time since 1964 this year

Mainland Chinese visitors will outnumber Japanese for the first time since 1964 this year

As travel restrictions have eased in recent years, outbound tourism among mainland Chinese has skyrocketed. As Jing Daily pointed out last month, an estimated 50 million mainland Chinese tourists and businesspeople are expected to venture outward in 2010, up from less than 10 million in 2000. Although many of these 50 million travelers will head to nearby Hong Kong or Macau, or bordering countries like Vietnam or Thailand, more mainland Chinese travelers than ever had their sights set on Taiwan.

Last year, amid the global financial slowdown that saw the number of non-Chinese tourists to Taiwan plummet, Taiwanese tourism officials began an unprecedented tourism outreach program throughout mainland China, embarking on promotional campaigns in Guizhou and announcing that the first-ever cross-straits tourism offices will open in Taipei and Beijing next month. Along with increased business ties, the administration of Ma Ying-jeou has encouraged more tourism exchange — a move very much welcomed by hotels and tour operators in Taiwan. As Yao Ta-kuang, chairman of the Travel Agent Association of Taiwan, said last year, “[In 2008,] mainland Chinese made 40 million trips abroad. If even just 1 million of them [came] to Taiwan, we could keep the industry going for generations.”

As cross-straits travel becomes easier, this year Taiwan is projected to receive more Chinese visitors for the first time since records began in 1964. As a BusinessWeek article notes today, around 1.2 million mainlanders will visit Taiwan this year, over 1.13 million Japanese. If these figures prove accurate, in 2010 Japan will lose its spot as Taiwan’s top source of visitors for the first time ever.

From BusinessWeek:

[Taiwan] dropped a ban on Chinese tourists in July 2008, two months after President Ma Ying-jeou took office and abandoned his predecessor’s pro-independence stance. The almost 200,000 Chinese that visited during the remainder of that year soared five-fold in 2009 as people seized the opportunity to cross the 180 kilometer (112 mile) Taiwan Strait.

“People are curious about the things that have been prohibited to them,” said Christopher Wong, a Hong-Kong based economist at HSBC Holdings Plc. “Chinese and Taiwanese have a similar cultural background and speak the same language, and that makes travel more easy.”

Lower air fares may also encourage more Chinese to see sites in Taiwan such as Mount Jade, the tallest mountain in East Asia. China Airlines, Taiwan’s biggest air carrier, will cut fares on cross-strait direct flights by 20 percent, the United Daily News reported April 8.

“I’m old and I don’t have much time left,” said Lin Mei- lin, 72, a retired school teacher who lives in Ningbo, Zhejiang, who also spoke outside Taipei 101. “I’ve always wanted to see Taiwan but was unable to do so, now I finally could see it myself. Taiwan is easy for old people like me because the food, culture and language are similar.”

In addition to the legions of first-time mainland Chinese tour groups crossing the Taiwan Straits for the first time, we can expect Taiwanese retailers to be smiling this year: mainland tourists spent some $63 million in Taiwan during this year’s Chinese New Year celebrations alone, and since travel bans were lifted since June 2008 they’ve spent $1.3 billion on the island — a welcome injection of cash as formerly free-spending Japanese tourists have cut back.


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