Tourism: Carrots and Sticks

Apparently as a reaction to the Dalai Lama‘s visit to Kaohsiung, Beijing told Chinese tour groups to call off planned trips to the southern Taiwanese city in September 2009. The China Times quoted unnamed tourism operators as saying the Dalai Lama’s visit to Kaohsiung was the main reason for the cancellations, causing an estimated six million Taiwan dollars (185,000 US dollars) in lost revenue. Beijing also voiced concerns over Kaohsiung film festival’s plan to show “Ten Conditions of Love” on Kadeer.

Beijing makes regular use of an agreement of 2008 that allows Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan as travelling groups, to put economic pressure on Taiwanese activities it dislikes.

Apparently in the wake of a visit by Rebiya Kadeer‘s daughter to Taiwan this week, Xinmin Net (Shanghai) carries a story about Frank Lin Fu-nan (林富男), a man with functions, among others, as the Kaohsiung Tourism Association’s Honorary President, leader of an alliance of tourism-related businesses in the Kaohsiung and Pingtung areas, and as an advisor with the KMT Central Headquarters (中國國民黨中央黨部).

Travel groups of the mainland’s second-largest company of everyday-use articles (5,200 employees) visited Taiwan from July 14 to 18, with the potential of creating 300,000,000 New Taiwan dollars’ trade opportunities, but Kaohsiung got no share in this “big piece of cake”. Lin Funan of the Gaoxiong-Pinggu Tourism Association said in an interview that this was an “alarming message” (“警讯”) to Gaoxiong’s tourism industry, and a blow, too.

One batch of the travellers will stay for seven, another for nine days. The tour of seven days includes Yehliu, the Taipei 101 Building, the Shihlin and Feng Jia night markets, Hsitou, the Sun-Moon Lake and other tourist destinations, and the nine-days tour adds Kenting, Hengchun, Cape Eluanbi and other southern Taiwanese travel routes.

The first travel group entered from Kaohsiung Siaogang Airport on July 14 without staying in the city, and immediately entered the travel coach to Kenting (Pingdung County, 屏东垦丁) to stay there for two nights, then transferred to Taizhong, leaving out the two important southern cities of Gaoxiong and Tainan.

Gaoxiong-Pinggu Tourism Association’s Lin Funan believes that although a portion of mainland tourists has actually started coming back to Gaoxiong now, the fact that such a big travel group goes to the lengths of staying two nights in Kenting but doesn’t even arrange for a one-night stay in Gaoxiong shows that the prejudice among them that the atmosphere is shrowded with the “Rebiya” and “Dalai Lama” events is still not completely gone.

Lin Fulin says that usually, Gaoxiong hotels are cheaper than Kenting hotels, and with the summer holidays now, the Kending prices are higher than Gaoxiong’s, and hotel rooms harder to book than in Gaoxiong. By experience, one could say that mainland tourists stayed in Kenting for one, and in Gaoxiong for another night, and opportunities for staying in Kending for two nights weren’t great. That another mainland travel group had left Gaoxiong out was an alarming message for Gaoxiong.

He said that Kaohsiung’s city government should strengthen the promotion of Kaohsiung, and secondly, there wasn’t sufficient investment in in touristical scenic spots. Besides, he suggests that mainland tourists should be encouraged with package measures and premium programs.

I’m not sure if I got all the numbers right – the number of Chinese tourists who can travel to Taiwan at the same time is limited to some extent (but regulations are continuously being liberalized). Lin Fu-nan didn’t let the Chinese boycotts of Kaohsiung corrupt him, but if Beijing controls the travel routes of Chinese tourists in accordance with its political agenda, his suggestions for additional measures to make Kaohsiung more attractive in terms of tourism – for Chinese tourists in particular – seem to make little sense.

If Kaohsiung has the potential for more tourism – and there are voices which suggest that -, it may be a good idea to invest further in the city’s attractiveness – but for tourism in general. Incentives for Chinese tourists will only make sense once Beijing drops its – direct or propagandistic – “political guidance”.

Besides, if other cities in Taiwan get rewards from China for being opportunistic, Kaohsiung could cultivate its role as a city of free speech, and politically uninhibited cultural events. There wouldn’t even be a need to discuss the “timing” of such events.

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Related:
Spying Suspect released one day after arrest, Taipei Times, July 18, 2010
ECFA: China’s Primacy of Politics, July 3, 2010

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