Taiwan awaits Chinese tourists with mixed feelings

July 2nd, 2008 - 9:58 am ICT by IANS  

By David Chang
Taipei, July 2 (DPA) Taiwan residents, with excitement, curiosity and a little contempt, are awaiting Chinese tourists who will arrive July 4 after Taiwan lifts its five-decade ban on entry by Chinese citizens. Although many Taiwanese have visited China in recent years, this will be the first time for them to see large groups of Mainland Chinese in Taiwan.

After half a century of separation, many Taiwanese have contradictory ideas about mainlanders: they are eager to show off Taiwan’s democracy, wealth, culture and sophistication, but some worry that the Chinese are backward, rude and may carry diseases to the island.

On television talk shows, officials and scholars discuss how to prevent Chinese tourists from seeking asylum or jobs in Taiwan, and how to prevent their bringing disease into the island.

Hu Shu-chen, head of the Tainan City’s Health Bureau, even suggested disinfecting all the places Chinese tourists have passed through.

Some analysts warn that this misconception will affect Taiwan’s reception of Chinese tourists and hurt Taiwan’s tourism industry in the long run.

In its cover story entitled “Millions of Tourism Prisoners Visit Taiwan,” The Journalist magazine blasted the Taiwan government for restricting the movements of Chinese tourists - they must enter and leave Taiwan as a group, must have morning and evening name call to make sure no one has gone missing, must ask for permission if one falls ill and wants to rest in hotel, and they must seek police permission to change itinerary.

Chinese tourists will bring 60 billion Taiwan dollars (about $2 billion) revenues, yet Taiwan is setting obstacles with the restrictions, the newsmagazine said.

“Tourism industry is service industry, and quality of service is important. If we receive Chinese tourists with a plunder-style service, we may meet the same result as in the film The Pope’s Toilet,” the weekly said.

The Pope’s Toilet tells the story of a villager in Uruguay sold family possessions and borrowed money to build a fancy toilet hoping to make money when Pope John Paul II visited Uruguay in 1988 and tourists would use his toilet. His dream was dashed when only a few hundred tourists showed up and no one used his toilet.

Taiwan does not worry about shortage of Chinese tourists in the next few years because Chinese are curious about Taiwan, but their interest will wear off unless Taiwan improves its service and tourist facilities and design interesting package tours.

Under the agreements signed in Beijing June 13, China will send a 600-member inaugural tour group to Taiwan July 4, when the two sides launch weekend charter flights.

In the first year, Taiwan will receive maximum 3,000 Chinese tourists per day, and will raise the quota as it expands the weekend charter flights to daily charter flights and eventually to regular flights.

Chinese travel agencies’ telephones have been ringing off the hook as tens of thousands of Chinese want to join the first tour group to Taiwan.

Taiwan’s biggest draw to Chinese tourists is Taiwan’s conflict with China and the life of late president Chiang Kai-shek; Ali Mountain; the Sun Moon Lake; and its capitalist system and people.

Chiang, after losing the Chinese Civil War, fled to Taiwan in 1949 to set up his government-in-exile. He died in 1975 and his son Chiang Ching-kuo, who succeeded Chiang Kai-shek as president, died in 1988.

Taiwan authorities are running against time to renovate airports and tourist resorts. While the government says it is ready to receive Chinese tourists, many Taiwanese think Taiwan airports are too old and too small, toilets at tourists resorts stink and city roads have too many pot holes.

Lien Sheng-wen, a member of the ruling Kuomintang party’s Central Standing Committee, pointed out that Taiwan airports are the shabbiest in Asia outside the Philippines.

“The worst is the Songshan Airport. I am afraid that when Chinese tourists get off the plane at the Songshan Airport, they might think they have landed in Pyongyang,” he said, referring to the capital of Communist North Korea.

The Songshan Airport, on the northern edge of Taipei, is a cramped domestic airport dating back to the 1895-1945 Japanese colonial rule. It will accommodate flights from China starting July 4.

The daily Taipei Times agreed, in an editorial entitled “Airports Need a Revamp.”

“While neighbouring countries have expanded airports or built new ones, it is disheartening to see the Taoyuan International Airport and Songshan Airport with ceilings stained from water leaks, broken windows and outdated customs’ clearance facilities,” it said.
DPA

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