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Subsidies cannot heal wounds of mainland tourist slump: Taiwan tourism businesses

TAIPEI, Nov. 4 -- Taiwan authorities recently announced a stimulus package to help the island's tourism industry tackle the sharp decline in Chinese mainland tourists, but business owners have described it as "a drop in the ocean."

The number of mainland tourists has plummeted since Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen took office in May. The tourism industry has plunged into recession since, and demanded the government help make ends meet.

A subsidy plan worth 300 million new Taiwan dollars (9.5 million U.S. dollars) has been unveiled by the government, aiming to encourage Taiwan locals to travel on the island.

A tourist group of at least ten people can receive subsidies of up to 15,000 new Taiwan dollars per day.

Local public servants, military personnel and teachers can receive up to 16,000 new Taiwan dollars as travel subsidies per year, but they have to spend half the money in tourism spots hit hard by the downturn.

The island's tourism bureau estimated that mainland tourists decreased by 28.4 percent in the third quarter compared with a year earlier. Insiders predicted that the annual fall could reach 800,000 people, resulting in economic losses of up to 40 billion new Taiwan dollars, while the subsidies can only boost tourism revenues by about 1.4 billion new Taiwan dollars.

Su Chia-nan, chief of headquarters of the Taiwan Tourism Association Coalition, said the subsidies were far from enough to make up for the losses brought by dwindling mainland tourists, adding that the new policy could intensify vicious competition in the industry.

Lai Cheng-i, Chairman of Taiwan's General Chamber of Commerce, said at least 30 bus companies have filed for bankruptcy since May. Snack vendors, farmers and hotel owners have also been hit hard.

Industry insiders said things could get worse in November, the traditional low season for tourism.

Lin Hsin-hsiung, a professor with Shu-Te University, said subsidies were not a panacea for long-term woes.

The ruling party should address the problem by making a positive response on the 1992 Consensus, Lin added.

The number of mainland visitors to Taiwan for both tourism and business quadrupled from 1 million in 2008 to 4 million in 2015, amid improved cross-Strait ties.

However, relations have been disrupted since Tsai Ing-wen took office in May, due to her refusal to recognize the 1992 Consensus, which adheres to the one-China principle.

In mid-September, around 10,000 tourist business owners in Taiwan took to the streets in downtown Taipei to voice their anger at government policy.