Taiwan resumes mainland China business travel in first step toward reopening, but ‘reciprocity’ still needed from Beijing

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Taiwan resumed accepting entry permit applications from mainland Chinese businesspeople on Monday, but say “reciprocity” is needed from Beijing to expand tourism measures, which are seen by some as too weak to bolster the sector on the island.

Travel for short-term business trips, including for exhibitions and training sessions, will be considered, according to Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council.

Taiwan will also resume issuing travel permits to mainland Chinese tourists who live in Hong Kong, Macau or other places outside mainland China from Friday.

It will then begin a month of preparations for the return of mainland Chinese group tours, although a date has yet to be announced.

It’s good news to bring more inbound traffic into Taiwan

Hiro Liao

“It’s good news to bring more inbound traffic into Taiwan,” said Hiro Liao, Skal International East Asia vice-president and president of Skal International Taipei.

The Ministry of Transportation and Communications said in October it planned to revive worldwide tourist arrivals to pre-coronavirus levels of around 10 million per year by 2024.

Around 9,500 tour guides, 2,800 travel agencies and 3,400 hotels operate in Taiwan, and many relied on government subsidies and domestic tourism to survive the pandemic, while others were forced to close.

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Taiwan had earned a reputation among mainland Chinese travellers for its night market snacks, extensive public transport and remote towns with historic landmarks.

Taipei began allowing mainland Chinese tourists en masse in 2008 and arrivals reached a record high of 3.4 million in 2015.

But political relations have faltered over the past seven years and Beijing halted independent travel to Taiwan in 2019.

Mainland China sees self-ruled Taiwan as a breakaway territory that must be united with the mainland, by force, if needed.

Taiwan’s ban on Chinese tourists set to ease in ‘huge’ lift after 3-year hiatus

“It’s a very positive development for people in the mainland,” said Victor Gao, vice-president of the Centre for China and Globalisation in Beijing.

“They want to go to Taiwan to see the sights and understand the situation.”

Zheng Jianpeng, a teacher in Beijing, plans to return to Taiwan because of lingering curiosity after a trip in 2014.

“There are similarities and differences [with mainland China] and such a contrast makes me more curious,” said 30-year-old Zheng.

“The last time was not very thorough. To travel this time, I must make a plan and do homework.”

You’ve got to have more progress made [by officials] for business travel to return and expand

Zhao Xijun

But the staggered reopening and vetting of applicants signals possible barriers, some analysts said.

Taiwan might place stricter limits on the number of entry permits and length of stay for business travellers, said Zhao Xijun, an associate dean with the School of Finance at Renmin University in Beijing.

“You’ve got to have more progress made [by officials] for business travel to return and expand,” Zhao said.

Business travellers attending exhibitions may stay in Taiwan just two days before and after an event, according to the Mainland Affairs Council website.

Taiwan expects a million mainland tourists in 2023 after 3-year freeze-out

Exhibitors will be capped at 10 mainland Chinese travellers per booth, and Taiwanese companies inviting mainland Chinese citizens will be limited to 25 to 100 depending on their sales revenue, the council said.

Taiwan has received nearly 493,000 business travellers from mainland China over the past eight and a half years, according to the National Immigration Agency.

Group tours from mainland China will be capped at 2,000 people per day “at the initial stage”, except for outlying islands, the council said, citing the “principle of eciprocity”.

Can Taiwan revive its moribund tourism industry after reopening?

Any increase in the limit depends on “reciprocity” from Beijing, it added.

Some Taiwan merchants have become accustomed to the lack of travellers from mainland China, with boutique guest houses able to prosper relying on domestic travel and tourists from other countries, said Lin Shu-min, chairwoman of the Pingtung Home Stay Association in southern Taiwan.

But major hotels want visitors from mainland China, Lin said, as they “expect their business to keep growing”.

Additional reporting by Mia Nulimaimaiti

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