Taipei, April 7 (CNA) The government should stress the improvements made to inbound travel quality, as the number of Chinese tourists might expand faster this year, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. "Inbound tourism, which Taiwan has long overlooked in favor of manufacturing, is now much more of a government focus because it could transform Taiwan's economy and make its growth less vulnerable to the global technology cycle," said Marcella Chow, a Hong Kong-based economist at Merrill Lynch. "However, to ensure that the increasing number of visitors does not become a source of public grievance, like in Hong Kong, in our view it is essential that the government sets sights on enhancing the quality rather than quantity of tourism," Chow wrote in a recent report. Based on data compiled by Tourism Bureau, Taiwan had 7.3 million visitors in 2012, a 20.1 percent annual increase compared with the previous year, which surpassed both the global and regional tourism markets by a wide margin. In 2012, worldwide growth in tourist arrivals is estimated at 3.8 percent, while the Asia-Pacific region, which saw the highest relative growth, expanded 7 percent, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Chow explained that the surge in Chinese tourists to Taiwan, from 1.8 million in 2011 to 2.6 million in 2012, was the main reason for the country's rapid growth in its overall visitor numbers.
Under a quota system, the number of Chinese tourists coming to Taiwan per day is capped at 4,000 group travelers and 1,000 independent tourists. This April, however, it will be relaxed to 5,000 tourists in groups and 2,000 solo tourists, suggesting that the potential number could expand even faster going forward, Chow said. "To fully embrace the potential of the tourism boom, the government needs to advance carefully with a well thought out, comprehensive plan," Chow added. The economist said Taiwan will need to meet the expectations of international tourists by improving the country's tourism infrastructure and by building unique, high quality tourism products and services, which are key to enhancing competitiveness as a tourist destination. Policymakers should also ensure that the economic advantages of tourism are shared evenly, Chow said, noting that the rampant price competition between Chinese and local tour operators is lowering the quality of prepaid tour packages. (By Jeffrey Wu)