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Independent traveler program yet to fulfill its promise: travel agent

Independent traveler program yet to fulfill its promise: travel agent

Taipei, Aug. 27 (CNA) Taiwan's independent traveler program for Chinese nationals will be expanded Tuesday to include residents of four more Chinese cities, but a local travel agent was not sure that it would help the program move closer to meeting its unfulfilled promise. "The program's expected benefits have not emerged," said Lee Chia-yin, deputy chairman of the Taipei Association of Travel Agents, Monday. "We'll have to wait and see how much the latest opening benefits Taiwan's tourism industry." Chinese tourists were required to visit Taiwan through tour groups until Taiwan began allowing visits by independent Chinese travelers in June 28, 2011, but the option was only open to residents of three Chinese cities -- Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. In late April, the program's doors were opened to residents of Xiamen, Tianjin, Chongqing, Nanjing, Hangzhou and Chengdu, and the maximum number of visitors allowed under the program was raised from 500 to 1,000 per day. Starting Tuesday, residents of Jinan, Xian, Fuzhou and Shenzhen will also be eligible to visit Taiwan on their own rather than as part of a tour group.
Despite the expansion of the program in late April, most independent Chinese travelers to Taiwan still come from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, Lee said. According to the travel industry insider, 78,000 Chinese nationals visited Taiwan under the program between June 28, 2011, when it was first launched, and May 31, 2012, accounting for only 5 percent of all Chinese nationals who visited Taiwan during that period. Though the segment generated NT$4.2 billion (US$140 million) in revenues for Taiwanese travel agents, visitor numbers were only about half the maximum 500 tourists per day allowed for much of the program's first year, he said. By comparison, since Hong Kong opened its doors to independent Chinese travelers in 2003, visitor numbers have exploded. In the first half of this year alone, 15.58 million Chinese visited Hong Kong, up 22.7 percent from the same period a year earlier, Lee said, and of those, 10.3 million, or 66.1 percent, were independent travelers. Though Lee did not foresee the segment ever being quite as important in Taiwan, he said there was still ample room for growth. He predicted that in the future about two-thirds of Chinese visitors would come as part of tours and the other third would come on their own. (By Chai Sze-chia and Elizabeth Hsu)