Cross-Strait travels pose uncertainty to the SAR

Friday, January 7, 2011
Issue 1205, Page 2
Word count: 831
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Beijing and Shanghai residents may become the first group of mainlanders to be allowed to travel to Taiwan under the Individual Visit Scheme from April, but a travel industry practitioner and a tourism management scholar of Macau share similar views that the impact to the SAR will be minimal in the beginning after the new arrangement is implemented.

Taiwan’s China Times and mainland China’s Beijing Daily recently reported that authorities on both sides had reached a consensus concerning the pilot scheme and that the preliminary planning is to impose a ceiling on the number of applicants at 500 per day, starting April 5 coinciding the Ching Ming festival which is a public holiday on the Mainland.

The media also reported that only residents of the two first-tier cities who can meet two of the five following criteria will be eligible to apply: no criminal record in China, sufficient bank deposits, be a property owner, a minimum annual income of 150,000 Yuan (MOP 181,334) and a holder of gold-grade credit cards.

In addition, it was said that Taiwan’s immigration authority was considering to adopt the security deposit mechanism and the amount may be 100,000 Taiwan dollars (22,660 Yuan or MOP 27,393) per applicant.

An individual tourist visa is valid for three months and allows the holder 15 days on the island each time.

However, BBC Chinese news online said Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council refused to confirm the starting date of the new travel arrangement or other details, but disclosed that tourism authorities of the two sides were in talks and no plan had yet been finalised.

According to president of the Macau Travel Industry Council Andy Wu Keng Kuong, this closer Cross-Strait tourism tie will be unlikely to pose adverse impact on the territory’s mainland tourist arrivals.

Wu told the Macau Daily Times yesterday there are a lot of Chinese cities and provinces not yet covered by the Individual Visit Scheme and therefore Macau still has “huge potential” to expand its market in the future.

Since Macau is set to become a world travel and leisure hub, he added that holiday makers will tend to look at the territory as a “short-haul travel destination”, and thus “competition [with Taiwan] won’t be too big”.

Although the SAR is relying heavily on individual mainland tourists, Wu pointed out that they mainly come from the Pearl River Delta region particularly Guangdong and Fujian, while those from other parts of China, such as Beijing and Shanghai, account for a much smaller proportion.

The most recent official statistics showed that in last November, 437,375 mainland tourists travelled to the SAR individually, up by 13.5 percent from the same month of 2009.

Yet, Wu reminded that: “If Macau’s tourism resources [for family travels] are rich and service quality is good, we’ll be able to attract Chinese tourists to come to Macau either before or after visiting Taiwan, especially Macau has direct flight services connecting to most of the mainland cities where the Individual Visit Scheme is applied.”

Macau currently has three carriers namely Air Macau, Eva Air and TransAsia Airways flying frequently to Kaohsiung and Taipei.

Even if Macau does have certain advantages, the industry practitioner admitted that it is necessary for the city to continue to improve itself since “competition always exists and doesn’t only come from Taiwan”.

‘More serious’ if expanded

Max Zhao Weibing, a tourism business management lecturer of the Institute for Tourism Studies (IFT), holds a similar point of view as Wu.

Zhao said since the scheme is believed to be only applicable to Beijing and Shanghai residents at this stage and a cap is to be imposed, there will be “no serious impact” in a short-term.

However, if the arrangement is expanded in the future, he believed that Macau will eventually “lose more visitors to Taiwan”.

Nevertheless, he told the MDTimes: “The launch of the Cross-Strait direct flights has already made Macau realise the challenges and therefore it isn’t a big surprise for Macau this time.”

According to the scholar, Taiwan’s tourism resources are “more comprehensive and balanced” which mainly attract tourists who want to “have a long holiday or look for different experiences”, while Macau’s main advantage is its entertainment elements.

In face of growing competition from neighbouring countries and regions, Zhao suggested the Macau Government launch active marketing campaigns in emerging and growing markets such as Japan, South Korea and India, as well as promote establishment of budget accommodation in order to encourage tourists to stay longer and consequently spend more in the city.

Mainland tourists have been allowed to travel to Taiwan since July 2008, but only in tour groups, as a result of groundbreaking talks between the two former rivals. The deal allows up to 3,000 tourists from mainland China a day.

According to the Taiwanese authorities, the island welcomed over one million mainland Chinese nationals in 2010, who had poured more than 10 billion Yuan into the island’s economy and surpassed Japanese as the island’s biggest visitor market.

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