Tourism workers march for help

Wearing yellow and white headbands reading “jobs and survival” and T-shirts that read, “This is a life-or-death situation for the tourism sector,” they marched from outside the Democratic Progressive Party headquarters to the Presidential Office to submit a petition letter.

According to the Tourism Industry Alliance, the ad hoc group organizing the protest — comprised of labor union members from 11 tourism-related business sectors — traveled from across the country to participate in the march.

Alliance spokesman Lee Chi-yueh (李奇嶽) said protesters demanded concrete measures from the government to stimulate the lagging tourism industry as Chinese visitor numbers declined.

Requests included simplifying the tourist visa application process, offering 72-hour visa-free entry to mainland Chinese travelers and free-of-charge visas, providing US$40 subsidies to foreigners visiting cities south of Taoyuan for more than two consecutive nights, promoting weekday domestic tourism by issuing travel bonds to Taiwan nationals, purchasing out-of-date buses and banning illegal hotels.

Moreover, they wanted the government to extend deadlines for loan payments from tourism-related businesses by six months, to annul tourism-related sales taxes for one year, to pay workers minimum wage while they are on leave, to provide financial support for activities aimed at promoting the tourism industry and to conduct training on Southeast Asian languages for industry workers.

Organizers claimed more than 20,000 protesters were in attendance Monday, but the police put the number at just over 10,500.

Nantou Magistrate Lin Ming-chen (林明溱) said at the protest that the government’s top priority should be to boost the economy and to ease cross-strait tensions.

NT$30 Billion Revival Plan

Later Monday, Cabinet Spokesman Tung Chen-yuan (童振源) reiterated that the government had earmarked a NT$30 billion budget to revive the tourism industry.

He emphasized the importance of an industrial transformation for Taiwan tourism.

In the short term, the Cabinet will seek to support areas suffering the most severe impact from the drop in mainland Chinese tourists, including Hualien, Taitung, Kaohsiung and Chiayi.

Tung said Premier Lin Chuan had ordered government agencies to encourage civil servants and public schools to organize trips to these areas.

Transportation Minister Ho Chen Tan said the industry will be forced to endure turmoil during transformation, saying that such turmoil is necessary to develop new markets.