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Taiwan travel agencies slam government for halting China tours

Tour operators consider protest on new president's inauguration day

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Representatives of the travel sector and KMT lawmakers ask the government to reverse its decision to ban tour groups to China. 

Representatives of the travel sector and KMT lawmakers ask the government to reverse its decision to ban tour groups to China.  (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Travel agencies on Thursday (Feb. 8) slammed the previous day’s Tourism Administration decision to order a halt to tour groups heading for China.

The government had allowed the organization of tours from March 1, but recent unilateral moves by China led it to change course. Beijing still refuses Taiwan visits by Chinese tour groups, and unilaterally altered flight routes over the Taiwan Strait, causing safety concerns.

While fully booked tours of China could still go ahead between March 1 and May 31, from June 1, no Taiwanese groups can head for the other side of the Taiwan Strait, the Tourism Administration said Wednesday (Feb. 7).

Tour operator associations visited the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) headquarters on Thursday to express their displeasure at the change, Radio Taiwan International (RTI) reported. Some travel agencies had already received deposits from travelers planning trips as far away as August.

The tour operators also questioned the legal basis for the ban. The COVID-19 pandemic is over while sending travelers to China did not amount to investing in the country, so there did not appear to be a basis in law to stop the trips, the tour operators said.

Before the pandemic, about a third of the 17 million overseas trips by Taiwanese had China as their destination, with tour groups occupying half the total. If there is a ban, many companies in the travel industry will find it hard to recover, while facing compensation claims from disgruntled customers.

If the government does not provide a reasonable explanation for its change of heart, the tour operators said they might stage a protest on May 20, the day of President-elect Lai Ching-te’s (賴清德) inauguration, per CNA.

The KMT accused the government of fooling voters ahead of the Jan. 13 presidential and legislative elections with its promise of opening group travel to China. Barely a month later, the Tourism Administration went back on its word, harming the local travel sector, opposition lawmakers said.