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Hong Kong-owned travel agency closes in Taiwan amid slump in arrivals from across the strait

A Hong Kong-owned travel agency in Taiwan that caters to visitors from across the strait has closed, the island’s tourism bureau said on Wednesday.

It is the first travel agency affected by the drop in mainland visitors amid cooling cross-strait ties since the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party came to power in May.

A Plus International Travel Service, a Taipei-based agency owned by Hongkonger Yau Wah-kiu and which only handles mainland visitors, said on Tuesday it was shutting down, Central News Agency reported.

The news came after Taiwan’s minister of communications said last week that the number of mainland visitors to the island had dropped by about 15 per cent overall since the DPP swept to power in January.

Tens of thousands of Taiwanese tourism operators are planning a street protest on September 8, calling on the DPP to come up with new measures to revive cross-strait exchanges, according to Hsu Gao-ching, the former secretary general of Taiwan’s Travel Agent Association.

“It’s just the beginning, and definitely will not be the end,” Hsu was quoted by the news agency as saying.

“[The shutdown] will trigger a domino effect, with more restaurants and stores being drawn into the turmoil.”

Beijing has been accused by Taiwan’s travel industry of using mainland tourists as a bargaining chip against Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who is also the chairwoman of the DPP.

Tsai hesitates to recognise the “1992 consensus”, which Beijing sees as the common ground for both sides on which to build future cross-strait relations.

The consensus refers to a tacit understanding reached between Taipei and Beijing in 1992 that there is only “one China”, but that each side has its own interpretation of what China stands for.

Official exchanges between Beijing and Taipei have halted since Tsai’s inauguration on May 20. Beijing later described Tsai’s speech at the event as an “incomplete test paper”.

Only 271,000 mainland visitors went to Taiwan in June, the lowest total recorded during the past 30 months, the island’s Tourism Bureau announced on ­Tuesday.

Last week, Taiwan’s central bank also said that the island’s second-quarter balance of payments for tourism services had registered a deficit of US$671 million, marking the second consecutive quarter in which such a deficit was seen.

The second quarter’s deficit was far larger than the US$202 million seen in the first quarter.