The Buzz About Chinese Tourists’ Direct Flights to Taiwan from China

I have to admit, I am getting a bit sick of all the attention that the new direct flights Chinese tourists are getting. It also feels like new KMT government is also presenting this (as a stepping stone for future closer ties with mainland China) as the cure of Taiwan’s economic ills and I just don’t buy it. My grandfather gave me a talk when I was young and taught me the meaning of the famous idiom don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. If closer ties with China and only China can cure the economics of Taiwan, then either way you spin it Taiwan is going to go the way of the dingo.

I do know the KMT is great at spinning the media and popular opinion. Just take their wins in the legislative and presidential elections for example. They portrayed the Taiwanese economy to be in terrible shape (check out these articles speaking of the opposite by Fili and Michael Turton on the Taiwanese stock market) and slammed the DPP and economy repeatedly. This was was their election platform, and now in their time in office things have become even worse, making them appear to be incompetent. Even the TV news, which for the most part happily went along for the presidential election ride and towed the line for the KMT, has been showing more clips of people dissenting against the new leadership in Taiwan.

But more tourists = more money.. What’s wrong with that?

Sure, it doesn’t take a genius to see that increasing tourists will inject capital into the country, but how can 1,000 tourists a day (down from the 3,000 tourists initially agreed upon) cure the rising prices of gas, food, and revive the slumping Taiwanese stock market? Also, and most importantly for the future of Taiwan, what is the cost to Taiwan’s sovereignty?

Let’s do some simple math and assume that these 1,000 tourists will spend at least NT 1,000 per day. That is NT 1 million per day. Of course, anyone on vacation knows that spending the equivalent of US 30 dollars a day is nearly impossible, especially when accommodations and transportation are factored in. In an article by Ralph Jennings on the Reuters website, estimates of the first wave of tourists are as follows:

Some of the 762 China visitors who came to Taiwan for eight days on the first direct weekend charter flights from July 4 bought made-in-Taiwan souvenirs, LV handbags and other high-end merchandise at expensive malls, such as SOGO and Taipei 101, in the island’s capital, the United Daily News reported.

“The NT$40 million spent by mainland China tourists over the past eight days is still a conservative estimate,” the paper said.

That works out to around NT 52,000 per person, 6500 NT per day, or nearly 1,700 US dollars for the 8 day trip. Of course, these are estimates, and they lead you to believe that even more was spent, although it could be less. If correct it is quite a bit of cash to be dropped. This leads me to some conversations I have had with Taiwanese people in my neighborhood.

Many of the Taiwanese people that I have spoken with echo the same feelings about the tourists; they expect them to be rude, crude, and dirty. Some that have been to China before recall a land where people freely spit on the streets, every male is a snot rocket scientist, people cough on others without regard, and it is not uncommon to see public urination and even defecation. I usually say at this point that China isn’t likely to send over their lowest class of people because A, they could never afford it and B, they don’t want to risk losing face by sending over third world barbarians. One man replied by saying that being in a higher economic class doesn’t mean that the people can’t be rude. I guess time will tell on that front. When I ask them if they think it is a good idea economically, they usually just shrug their shoulders. Why? Because they have no idea, as they aren’t in the tourism industry! I guess it is best to grease the wheels of the hotel moguls and travel agents. I never bring up to the Taiwanese that there is so much betelnut spit and shreds all over the place, and that Taiwanese also frequently piss in parks and other places. I even caught a man pissing in the courtyard of my apartment complex. The students I have taught rarely cover their mouth when they cough, and 99.99% of the public bathrooms have neither soap or drying materials. I didn’t think that would make for such a good conversation.

Some other events I have heard talk of happening in relation to the tourists coming is both good and bad. They are sprucing up the main tourist areas like Sun Moon Lake and Alishan. Good idea, but why give so much of a shit about 1,000 Chinese tourists a day when there are foreigners from other countries that way outnumber the amount of Chinese tourists? According to this article, 3.71 million tourists visited Taiwan in 2007. Considering Chinese tourists will max out at 365,000 a year if they can maintain a rate of 1,000 per day, they would represent less than 10% of all tourists coming to Taiwan. What about these tourists? Don’t they deserve clean bathrooms with soap and maybe even a way to dry their hands? Why aren’t the cultural centers kept nicely for other tourists and maybe even the Taiwanese people that want to see them? What about the foreigners working, living, paying taxes and also touring in Taiwan? Don’t they deserve some red carpet treatment or water jets shot at them?!

Most news articles make it appear that these direct flights are the first and only ways for Chinese to enter into Taiwan, and are a significant thawing of Sino-Taiwanese relations. Upon reading this article while looking for amounts of Chinese tourists in Taiwan yearly, I discovered that Chinese tourists have been coming here conditionally since 2002. In this time, 27 “tourists” have gone missing, meaning they are illegally staying in Taiwan. Conspiracy theorists could argue that they are spies. Others will say they are just trying to make a life for themselves. Others could even go as far as saying the newcomers want to live in a democratic country. I prefer that one out of the three myself. By the way, I still haven’t found out how many PRC tourists were coming to Taiwan previously, and that could really affect the claim that the direct links will be such a blessing for Taiwan’s economy.

Since the direct flights have begun nearly a week ago, there have been 3 tourists that have temporarily disappeared from their tour groups. Considering Taiwan is a democracy, that shouldn’t be a problem should it? People coming and going as they wish. Well, think again, and there will be hell to pay for it by the tour company. If they don’t return on time, the tour company will really be prevented from the now lucrative mainlanders’ market for a specific time based on how many people “escape”.


Tourists’ overstaying their visas – the duration is four-10 days – in Taiwan will lead to the temporary suspension of the agency’s mainlander business, anywhere from one month to one year, depending on the number of the over stayers.

So how much money are we talking about for all of this?


The imminent arrival of the first wave of tourists from the Chinese mainland has positive implications for Taiwan’s tourism industry and for its economy.

Analysts expect that 3,000 Chinese visitors a day would generate $2 billion in revenues, boost the island’s overall hotel occupancy rate by 22 percent and its hotel room rates by 15 percent, and add 0.5 percent to GDP growth.

With the number of tourists likely to increase far beyond 3,000 a day, the sky is the limit.

For historical and cultural reasons, Taiwan is expected to be very popular with mainland tourists, and analysts believe that such tourism will eventually become a key pillar of Taiwan’s economy, just as it has in Hong Kong.

A tourism revival

Taiwan’s tourism industry has long been moribund. Taiwan receives fewer than a million Japanese tourists every year, and a trickle of visitors from Hong Kong and Singapore.

In 2007, only 3.7 million people visited Taiwan, a growth rate of just 5.6 percent compared with 2006, and of those 3.7 million visitors, only half were tourists, and the rest were business travelers or people visiting relatives.

In sharp contrast, Hong Kong received a whopping 28 million visitors in 2007, up 11.6 percent from 2006, including 15.4 million visitors from the Chinese mainland.

Because of low visitor numbers, Taiwan’s hotels have struggled with poor occupancy rates for many years, usually in the range of 60 percent to 70 percent, and the hotels also suffer from some of the lowest room rates in Asia.

In 2007, for example, the overall occupancy rate of hotels in Taiwan was 67 percent, with an average room rate of just NT$3,200 ($105). In Hong Kong, by contrast, the average room rate in 2007 was $156.

“Taiwan now has the cheapest hotel rates among all the cities in Asia,” says Stanley Yen, president of Landis Hotels and Resorts, which manages eight hotels and resorts in Taiwan, and two hotels in the Chinese mainland. “It is difficult for hotel operators here, because it doesn’t give you enough return to justify the investment.”

I guess the extra estimated 10% growth in Chinese tourists will help fill out these hotels. Sure. But is there really a need for new ones?


The flights to and from five mainland cities are the most potent symbol of the present thaw and Mr Ma hopes that by 2012 four million Chinese a year will visit what they have long regarded as a forbidden island. Hotels are being built in anticipation. Airports and tourist sites are being spruced up. Great efforts were made to ensure that the 700 Chinese arrivals yesterday felt welcome. The first flight was greeted with traditional lion dances and the visitors were invited to a banquet last night. The authorities have also pledged to stop anti-communist activists harassing mainlanders.

What about a fact I also noticed by a fellow blogger regarding the planes being used. The only The Only Redhead in Taiwan writes:

Moreover, its becoming more and more apparent that Taiwan is getting very little out of the deal. China refused to let Taiwanese airlines in on the historic transits. This, I feel, is the part that’s been left out of most of the reporting (not, as Scheer says, the fact that the neocons are going to be left in the cold). The Hong Kong-Taipei route is one of the busiest in the world. Now that some of that traffic will be redirected, Taiwanese companies aren’t being allowed any of the new business.

If this is the case going forward, it doesn’t seem like a very good deal. Taiwanese airliners won’t be used in the direct flights from China, and there will be a reduced need for flights from Hong Kong. Doesn’t sound like you could do a worse job regarding the bargaining there.

Two other issues have arisen, one from the outlawed in China Falun Gong cult. They have been asked to move their stands away from the popular tourist areas which they set up booths near and spread information in the form of pamphlets to visitors. So far they have refused to leave, and the government has ruled out the use of force “for the time being”. Stay tuned to developments there. The other issue is the latest call for betelnut beauties to dress less provocatively:

The Liberty Times featured pics of a betel nut girl that were on all the networks yesterday. The Nantou county government, concerned that Chinese tourists may discover that Taiwanese girls have secondary sex characteristics, has ordered that the betel nut babes dress more demurely. I think the Nantou government is just trying to spare the feelings of the poor Chinese by preventing them from finding out that Taiwanese girls are hotter than Chinese girls.

They have been doing this for years already, but again the Chinese tourists are coming so we need to clean them up so Taiwan doesn’t look bad. It doesn’t matter if Taiwan looks bad to other foreigners, but to their spitting, snot rocketing brothers to the north it is essential to make a nice presentation. I think most foreigners are very intrigued by the betelnut girls and eventually just accept it, for good or for bad, as a way of life.

To sum up all of this in the least eloquent way possible, I hate how Taiwan is now bending over for the mainland. I hope Ma has some serious tricks up his sleeves (and he’s not just pulling the wool over Taiwan’s eyes) for the betterment of Taiwan. There are 4 more years left of this and this is just the beginning.

About the Author

I am a cultural geographer by nature, and now a photographer, videographer, musician, webmaster and father.

11 Responses to “ The Buzz About Chinese Tourists’ Direct Flights to Taiwan from China ”

  1. Fantastic post!

  2. Thanks Michael. The more I hear about this the more it pisses me off. And I have been hearing a lot about it.

  3. Taiwan is going to go the way of the dingo.

    What the hell does it mean?

  4. It means it will disappear from the face of the Earth.

  5. Mild Seven,

    I get the feeling you’re really trying to make sense of all of this, but you’re missing a few key facts:

    – mainland tourists have been allowed since 2002, but only if they have residency rights in a third country. Think about that for a second, and you’ll understand why actual number of mainland visitors has been minimal over the past 8 years.

    – you touched upon the *real* significance of all of this above: 15.4 million mainland visitors to Hong Kong (in 2006, which means its probably another 25-50% higher this year). Run your numbers again for Taiwan, assuming a similar number are visitors to Taiwan.

    If you’re interested in discussing the issue with Chinese, who have our own strongly held opinions on the subject, drop by our blog.

  6. I never could find the amount of Chinese that visited Taiwan between 2002 and 2008. One of the main reasons for not allowing Chinese visitors to Taiwan was national safety. The promise of cash and the new government have decided that safety will play a secondary roll to a little cash. They have also limited the amount of tourists to 3,ooo, which has been further limited by China itself to 1,000 tourists per day. That works out to 365,000 tourists per year if the 1,000 tourists per day threshold is constantly met and no other changes are applied. It will be a long time before Taiwan sees anything close to 15 million tourists from mainland China.

  7. Mild Seven,

    The numbers are available from the Mainland Affairs Council, I believe. I’ve looked at them in the past, and they’re as pathetic as you’d expect. Oh, I just found a reference in one mainland article… 87,000 mainland tourists to Taiwan in 2006.

    Now, what sort of “national security” threat comes from pre-screened tourists? One theory was that PLA commandos would cross the strait in jetliners pretending to be tourist flights, and upon landing would seize major airports. Another theory is that PLAAF fighters would “hide” underneath jetliner radar shadows and cross the Taiwan strait.

    Both are just believable enough to be somewhat realistic… but then, it’s difficult to imagine that with all the warzones out there, how/why civilian airflight has been made possible just about everywhere else except across the Taiwan strait. This is especially silly since Taiwan couldn’t find an excuse to cut off flights between Hong Kong, a part of the PRC, and Taiwan.

    Regardless, that fig leaf by the CSB administration has been discarded, and now we’re on to solving real problems. I think its very likely that within 8 years (assuming current warming trends hold), we will see up to 15 million tourists within Taiwan every year.

  8. Thanks for the numbers. If they are the same, then they were already getting about 1/4 of the amount of the tourists they are getting now.

    The biggest national security threat in my mind is spying. Some tourists are leaving their groups and ‘disappearing’ into Taiwan. As I wrote before there were already quite a few of them. Taiwan also combines their military jets and national airports. Tourists can record whatever they want at the airports… These are threats to Taiwan’s security.

    I doubt that in 8 years the number will reach 15 million a year. Even if trends are warm, the cost of a flight will be that much more by then. The days of cheap travel are disappearing already…

  9. These numbers are just the beginning as Tang Bu Xi mentions. I think the important part was that Taiwanese local airlines couldn’t participate. That seems very dumb, probably Ma felt pressure to show some results and the Chinese side pounced.

  10. A great article. I agree with your observation and what you said about national security.

    More numbers:

    ‘Since 4th July, on average, there have been only 173 Chinese tourists every day. There were only 45 people on 5th August; 65 on 6th and 55 on 7th. Their average spending has been between US$670 and US$1300, which is much less than the ‘conservatively estimated’ $1857.

    The average number of tourists presented here is even less when DPP was in charge. Calculating from figures published by Tourism Bureau of Taiwan, there were 270 per day in 2006 and 224 per day in 2007. Please note that in the past few years, Chinese tourists were only allowed to visit Taiwan after they had visited a 3rd country and yet the number reduced AFTER they could fly directly to Taiwan?!!

    Some people argue that this was due to the Olympics in Beijing. However, the number of Chinese mainland tourists going to Hong Kong and Macau has not reduced. This means the Chinese Government is still keeping a tight lid on the number of tourists visiting Taiwan. The Chinese Government only allows 33 travel agencies in 13 provinces handling applications for travelling to Taiwan. In other words, it is mostly up to China! Critics suspect that China would use this to push Ma to give up more Taiwanese sovereignty because they know Ma has not fulfilled any other campaign promises and is eager to make this one happen.’


    Also, I doubt the Chinese government would want a lot of their people to learn the way Taiwanese critise and question their leader because they may go back and do the same to theirs. At the moment, the tour guides working on tours to Taiwan have to be specially ‘trained’ to have the ‘right concepts about mother country’… (I was speechless when I read this the other day)

  11. China doesn’t send spies to Taiwan. They send tourists who happen to know the location of Taiwan’s military bases (even secret ones) to take pictures of them.

    And, of course, the KMT government treats them as tourists, letting them off, unlike what happens to Taiwanese people accused of spying in China.

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