Taiwan Set for First Tourist Drop Since 2003 After China Ban

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China’s ban on individual travel to Taiwan could see visitors to the island fall for the first time since the devastating SARS outbreak of 2003.

The number of mainlanders traveling to the island plunged 46% in September, according to data from Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau. China banned individual travelers from heading to Taiwan in July, although tourists are still allowed to visit in tour groups.

Taiwan Set for First Tourist Drop Since 2003 After China Ban

While the total number of international visitors to Taiwan had been on track for a new record high, rising more than 10% so far this year, the Chinese embargo threatens to interrupt 15 straight years of annual increases in overseas arrivals. In 2003, tourists stayed away from Taiwan and Hong Kong after outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

China, which is the largest single source of tourists to Taiwan, has sought to isolate the island ahead of a January election that will determine whether President Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party can win a second term. China provided little justification for its ban on individual travel, citing only “the state of cross-strait relations” in its statement.

“Arbitrary curbs on travel hurt the prospects for mutual understanding between people in Taiwan and China,” said Ian Rowen, assistant professor at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, via email. “However, economic impacts on Taiwan are limited due to the economy’s low overall reliance on tourism and the government’s active role in courting visitors from less capricious emerging markets.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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