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For Taiwan’s tourism operators, ‘golden week’ loses lustre as cross-strait woes deepen

The number of Chinese mainland tourists celebrating the National Day holiday by heading to Taiwan has fallen sharply against last year, in a further sign the woes facing local tourism operators amid the cross-strait stalemate are deepening.

While Taiwan’s neighbours like Japan, South Korea and Singapore have reportedly enjoyed an influx of mainland tourists eager to spend, operators on the self-ruled island have been forced to slash prices in a bid to attract locals and fill the gap. The south of the island – the traditional stronghold of the governing independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party – is suffering the most from the drop-off, with tourist earnings down significantly.

Taiwanese authorities have appealed for calm and promised NT$30 billion (HK$7.4 billion) to help operators through the difficult period. Officials are also looking at offering incentives to tourists from Southeast Asia and elsewhere in a bid to lure new business.

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Taiwan’s China Times reported an even grimmer figure of just 499 mainland tourist arrivals on Wednesday. According to the Taipei-based Tourism Bureau, the daily average for the golden week period should be about 4,000, which is half the level of last year.

Operators said they have suffered heavily since Beijing reduced the number of mainland tourists heading over the strait in a bid to pressure the island’s President Tsai Ing-wen to accept the “1992 consensus”. The mainland has said the tacit agreement is a prerequisite for the two sides to continue talks and carry out exchanges.

“We have seen business drop 80 per cent during the golden week and we might have to close down our ferry business if this situation continues,” said the operator of a ferry company in Sun Moon Lake in Nantou county in central Taiwan.

She said her company, like many other operators, took loans to finance the purchase of boats, and with fewer mainlanders, along with the ensuing cut throat competition, she was afraid her company might not survive.

To the south in Alishan in Chiayi county, a woman who runs a stewed egg business said she used to sell several thousands of the snack every day. But business had fallen 90 per cent in recent months. Sun Moon Lake and Alishan have traditionally been the must-see attractions for mainlanders visiting Taiwan.

While local hotels catering to mainland tourists have reported business was down by as much as 70 per cent, hostels for individual mainland visitors have also found it tough.

“In the end, we have had to cut our prices in order to attract the locals and improve our business,” said Chen Wen-ming, a hostel operator in Pingtung in southern Taiwan.

“Worse, previously we used our van to take the tourists to our hostels, but now because of the reduction in the number of individual mainland tourists, most of the operators now use their vans as taxi cabs to take foreign visitors around to earn more money,” Chen said.

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Taiwan allowed in mainland visitors beginning in 2008 when former president Ma Ying-jeou became president and adopted a policy of engaging Beijing. That year 329,000 mainlanders visited the island.

But since Tsai took office in May, the number has fallen steadily each month – from 327,000 in May to 230,000 in September. Some 4.18 million mainlanders visited the island in 2015.

“The drop is mainly due to political factors,” said Chiu Chui-cheng, deputy minister of Mainland Affairs Council, the top mainland policymaking body.