Taiwan mulling extension of visa-free treatment review

Taipei-Taiwan's annual review of its existing visa-free treatment to tourists from four countries might be extended to a three-year evaluation as part of government efforts to boost tourism, an official said Friday.

As China's ban on independent tourists to Taiwan took effect beginning Aug. 1 and was expected to have a negative impact on local tourism in the second half of this year, the government is mulling the measure as a means of attracting more tourists, Minister Without Portfolio Chang Ching-sen (???) said during a cross-agency meeting.

Under the current program, the visa-free privilege granted to tourists from Thailand, the Philippines, Brunei and Russia is reviewed every year.

Now the government is considering extending the period to three years to enable travel agencies in these countries to organize group tours to Taiwan with greater convenience, Chang said.

Taiwan began allowing visa-free entry for citizens of those countries when the government launched the Kuan Hung Pilot Project on a trial basis from Nov. 1, 2015 through Dec.31, 2019. The project currently covers India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.

It was aimed at boosting tourism here.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been asked to submit a report on how the program has been going this year and to conduct an assessment on the proposal to extend the review period by the end of June next year, Chang noted.

As to the question of whether Indonesia and Vietnam will be added to the visa-free program, the possibility was ruled out during the meeting given that many of the tourists from the two countries who entered Taiwan visa free overstayed their visas, he explained.

Chang, however, said it was decided in the meeting that the visa application process for tourists on quality group tours from the six countries covered in the Kuan Hung Pilot Project will be further streamlined to bolster arrivals to Taiwan.

According to Chang, Taiwan's tourism industry will face a critical transformation over the next five years, and the government must explore diverse tourist resources to fill the void left over by a dwindling number of Chinese tourists.

Amid tensions between Taiwan and China since President Tsai Ing- wen (???) assumed office in May 2016, the number of Chinese tourist arrivals has been falling.

It dropped to 2.69 million in 2018, and is likely to shrink to 1.4-1.6 million in 2020, compared to the peak of 4.19 million recorded in one year under the previous administration of former President Ma Ying-jeou (???), Chang said.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel