Visitors to Taiwan hit record high, concern in tourism income

The number of foreign visitors to Taiwan rose 7 per cent to a record of 11.84 million in 2019, the sharpest annual increase in five years, despite Beijing’s policy to ban individual mainland tourists from coming last August. Still, tourism expenditure is a major concern amid fears of fewer Mainland tourists would come this year.

“Taiwan tourism is largely influenced by the political relationship between Taiwan and the Mainland,” said Dr. Shannon Chin, an associate professor of economics at National Sun Yat-sen University.

Tsai Ing-wen was re-elected as Taiwan’s president earlier this month, which may heighten fears that the number of Mainland tourists would continue to fall. Since Tsai failed to recognize “The 1992 Consensus” as the basis and foundation for interaction with the Mainland, it may strain the relationship between two sides.

“The sharp decline in visitor expenditure in Taiwan these years may have something to do with the declining Mainland visitors visiting Taiwan,” Dr. Chin said.

Visitor arrivals keep rising while visitor expenditures fluctuate

Last year, mainland visitors to Taiwan reached 2.71 million, up 0.5 per cent from 2018, while the number of non-Mainland visitors jumped 9 per cent to 9.14 million.

Visitor arrivals between 2008 and 2018 witnessed ten years of consecutive growth, while visitor expenditures have fluctuated.

Visitor expenditures fell for three straight years from 2014 to 2017, although spending recovered in 2018, up 11.29 per cent. Tourist expenditure data in 2019 are not immediately available.

Mainland tourists were the largest source of visitors to Taiwan in the past ten years, accounting for almost one-third of total visitors in some of the years. From 2008 to 2015, the number of Mainland visitors to Taiwan was up for seven consecutive years, to 4.19 million in 2015. But from 2016, the number of Mainland visitors visiting Taiwan started to decline and was down for three straight years.

Mainland visitors climbed to the second-largest spender among foreign visitors to Taiwan in 2018 with average spending of US$211.68 per person per day, slightly after Japanese tourists’ US$219.35, based on statistics from Taiwan’s tourism bureau. In 2017 and 2016, Mainland visitors were the third-largest spender among foreign visitors to Taiwan.

Increasing Southeast Asian, Japanese and South Korean visitors

In response, Tsai Ing-wen advanced the New Southbound Policy started in 2016 to enhance cooperation and exchanges between Taiwan and 18 Southeast Asia countries. “Facing the declining Mainland tourists, we are seeking to attract more Muslim visitors and visitors coming from Southeast Asian to diversify the tourism market,” said Chiu Chung-Jung, the Executive Officer of Taiwan Tourism Bureau.

To promote Taiwan tourism and assist local travel agency in selling Taiwan tourism products, Taiwan Tourism Bureau also set up two overseas offices in Ho Chi Minh City and London. It also established five Taiwan Tourist Service Centers in Moscow, Jakarta, Auckland, Sydney, and Vancouver last year.

“We are striving for a balance in tourism development. Visitors coming to Taiwan can be divided into four categories, Mainland, Hong Kong and Macau visitors, southeast Asian visitors, Japanese and South Korean visitors, and European and American visitors. We hope each category accounts for about one-fourth of total visitors,” said Chiu Chung-Jung.

In 2019, among the 9.14 million non-Mainland visitors, the growth rate of Japanese and South Korean visitors jumped 10 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively. The number of Japanese visitors also exceeded 2 million for the first time, while the visitors from the 18 New Southbound Policy countries increased by 6 per cent.

However, the increasing number of visitors from Southeast Asian countries cannot make up for declining Mainland visitors. “Mainland visitors have a much higher consumption power than visitors from southeast Asian countries; thus the former may contribute more to the tourism revenue,” said Dr. Shannon Chin. “On the other hand, the increasing number of visitors coming from Southeast Asian countries may pose new social problems, like some of them may take advantage of tourist visas to find a job in Taiwan, which is difficult to manage.”

Weak tourism expenditure is a big concern

Still, lacklustre revenues from tourism is a major concern for Taiwan’s tourism industry development. According to Taiwan’s tourism bureau, the average spending per person in Taiwan has been declining from 2011 to 2017.

The business performance of Taiwan’s famous night markets could be a good barometer of visitor expenditure. “Our daily sales in 2019 declined by two or three thousand Taiwanese dollars compared to three years ago,” said Wen Ju-ying, a stall-keeper at the Singjhong Night Market in Kaohsiung. “I don’t know why, but I just feel that there are fewer and fewer tourists.”

The declining Mainland visitors can help explain the weak sales to some extent. A trend towards the rise of independent travellers and the drop of group travellers also have a great impact. “This general trend may influence the tourism expenditure in Taiwan to some extent. Since group travellers have a higher consumption power than independent travellers,” said Mr Chiu.

From the long run, the development of Taiwan tourism should not merely rely on the rise of visitors numbers, said Dr Chin. “We should consider how to attract visitors from developing countries. Taiwan should insist on the natural scenery and utilize the resources to make it a more attractive tourism destination to accelerate the development of its tourism industry.”

Taiwan has been trying to promote and develop Taiwan towards a leading Asian travel destination for many years. It put forward the “Making Place and Place Making” policy in 2019. It is a program aims at using vernacular culture and urban heritage as attractions to promote the tourism industry.

“We hope to offer visitors an opportunity to explore the traditional Taiwan lifestyle. Take Sky Yard in Nantou County, for example, the renovated residential building has proven popular with visitors all over the world,” said Mr Chiu. “I believe green hills and blue waters in Taiwan is still attractive to some visitors. The more localized we are, the more foreign visitors we will attract.”


《The Young Financial Post 新報人財經》



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