Mainland Chinese tourists shop for jewelry in Taipei (Image: Xinhua)
With Taiwan set to lift restrictions on individual mainland Chinese tourists within the first half of this year, small business owners and tour operators are expecting these notoriously free-spending travelers to bring record profits. As Jing Daily has previously noted, the gradual loosening of visa restrictions over the past several years has seen the number of mainland Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan surpass the Japanese, despite restrictions limiting mainland Chinese arrivals to tour groups. (Though this remains the preferred travel method of most Chinese tourists.) In all, 1.16 million mainland Chinese visited Taiwan in 2010, most of them from Guangdong, Zhejiang and Jiangsu, but with the announcement that Taiwan will soon roll out a pilot program to allow individual tourists from top-tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai, that number is expected to increase to over 2 million this year.
Taiwan's iconic landmark, the Taipei 101, has benefited from the surge of mainland Chinese visitors. Thanks to their tourism dollars, the world's second tallest skyscraper turned a profit for the first time since it was built in 2004.
Other major tourist attractions have also seen strong growth since Taiwan allowed guided tours for mainland Chinese two-and-a-half-years ago.
So far, nearly two million Chinese have visited Taiwan and brought in US$3 billion.
With the number of mainland Chinese tourists expected to surge, retailers in Taipei are gearing up for a summer rush. Like their counterparts in Hong Kong, this is especially true for luxury retailers. Last year we saw the Chinese luxury watch retailer Hengdeli go so far as to purchase a 534 square meter property on Taipei’s Zhongxiao East Road, a popular shopping destination for tourists, in anticipation of hordes of mainland Chinese visitors. And boutique hotels expect a boom of their own, or at least enough of one to offset the much lower number of Japanese tourists expected in Taiwan this year. Small business owners, too, expect something of a bumper year. As Chang Wan Ling, owner of Taipei Leechi Bakery, told Channel News Asia, "Allowing Chinese individual travellers to visit Taiwan will help bring more business for us. I expect our sales to go up by 20 to 30 per cent."
Economically, the well-documented spending power of mainland Chinese tourists could translate to a sizable boost for Taiwan, with some analysts forecasting that spending by mainland Chinese tourist-shoppers could eventually account for up to eight percent of Taiwan's GDP.