TAIPEI: The number of Chinese visitors to Taiwan has fallen 22 per cent since the island's Beijing-sceptic government took office in May, with tourism operators saying Wednesday (Sep 7) that the industry is in a slump.
Hotels are only half-full and thousands of tour buses are sitting idle, with observers saying the decline is due to China limiting tour groups to Taiwan amid rapidly cooling cross-strait ties.
There had been a boom in Mainland tourists to Taiwan in recent years under former President Ma Ying-jeou's Beijing-friendly government, with Chinese visitors accounting for about 40 per cent of the total 10 million tourists last year, according to government figures.
However, in the months since President Tsai Ing-wen took office up to Aug 23, mainland visitor numbers have fallen 22.3 per cent compared to the same period last year, according to the Mainland Affairs Council.
The biggest slump was in visitors arriving with tour groups - a 38.9 per cent decrease.
"We're trying very hard to survive and we hope the government can help," said Ringo Lee, spokesman for the Travel Agent Association.
Tsai's government has said they are seeking to attract more tourists from Southeast Asia to make up the shortfall, but Lee says that's not working yet.
"In such a huge industry that encompasses restaurants, hotels, shops, bus companies, tour guides, it's difficult to adjust to a totally new market," he explained.
Tourism operators have planned a protest for Sep 12 expected to attract thousands of demonstrators.
Chang Tien-tsai, who leads a tour bus association, says more than 3,000 vehicles that were bought to carry mainland tour groups are now just "sitting in the sun."
Chang said bus companies rushed to buy new buses during an influx of mainland visitors in 2008, but many are now having difficulties repaying loans.
And, many hotels near tourist attractions are only able to fill half of their rooms, according to Jessica Yu, secretary-general of a hotel association.
Anti-China rhetoric is also contributing to the decline in tourists, said Lee, giving the example of social media comments like "Taiwan's air is better without mainland tourists."
The island's tourism sector was also badly hit when a deadly bus crash in July killed an entire tour group from China's northeastern city of Dalian.
The incident prompted Chinese officials to question the safety of mainland visitors to the island.