Taipei, Oct. 1 (CNA) Businesses at some of Taiwan's top tourist destinations began to feel the pinch Tuesday as China
's new tourism law visibly reduced the number of visitors, though tour operators remained confident that it will prove beneficial in the long run. Few tour groups took to the piers and restaurants of central Taiwan's Sun Moon Lake, one of the most popular destinations for Chinese visitors, marking the first day under China
's law that bans dubious trips advertising themselves as low-cost or even free but making up the difference through mandatory shopping trips. Small numbers of Chinese tourists were seen at souvenir shops, while one of two big local specialties stores closed shop for the time being while the owner ponders what to do in the face of decreased demand. The biggest operator of pleasure cruises on the lake took on about two dozen tour groups from China
Tuesday, compared with more than 50 exactly a year ago, said Mr. Liu, the owner of the cruise company. Eight or so tourist groups dined in his restaurant, down from 20 on the same day last year, he added. Oct. 1 is China
's national day and the beginning of a seven-day holiday -- normally a golden opportunity for Taiwan's tourism-related businesses. But a similar trend was going on in other parts of the island. The price hikes on Taiwan tours have been disruptive, with a typical eight-day package for visitors from southeastern China
, for example, more than doubling to a cost of between 6,500 Chinese yuan (US$1,000) and 7,000 yuan. To the south, the Alishan Scenic Area, where Chinese tourists have made up the bulk of visitors on any given day, only 4,000 people showed up, a decline of 20 percent from a year ago. Retailers and restaurants alike took a big hit, but other businesses are more cheery about the long-term effects of the ban on "free" tours. Even though tour groups from China
used to come in large numbers, most of them rushed through the scenic beauty of Alishan and did not stay the night in order to get to their next shopping stop, said Liao Chin-tai, a local hotel owner. Now without the pressure of hurrying onward, he expects more Chinese visitors to stay overnight and view the mountainous area's celebrated sunrise, bringing in business to hoteliers.
The short-term impact of the new law is inevitable, but it is also an opportunity for Taiwan, said Hung Wei-hsin, deputy director of the Sun Moon Lake National Area Administration. The price hikes mean Taiwan will be able to promote itself as a high-quality tourist destination, he said, as fees paid by Chinese tour groups catch up with prevalent market prices. But in the near term, things could get worse before they get better. Chinese tourist arrivals to Taiwan could fall 10 percent from the record 33,748 visitors in tour groups who arrived during last year's "golden week," predicted Roget Hsu, secretary-general of the Travel Agent Association of the Republic of China. The situation could become more severe once the peak travel period ends. He said that the local tourism sector could suffer a 30 to 50 percent decline in sales from the inbound Chinese tourist market by the end of the year. The transitional period could last until Chinese New Year in early 2013, when travel demand will surge again, but despite the gloomy outlook he, too, believes the law will help improve the quality of travel in the cross-Taiwan Strait travel market. Taiwan attracted a record 2.6 million visitors from China in 2012. During the first eight months of this year, about 1.9 million Chinese visitors came to Taiwan. (By Huang Kuo-fang, Lin Heng-li, Lee Hsin-Yin and Jay Chen)