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Taiwan's tourist industry feels the chill from declining mainland visitors

TAIPEI, Oct. 9 -- The colored glaze art on display glimmers on the shelf at a souvenir shop at Sun Moon Lake in central Taiwan, but few tourists are around to appreciate it.

"I just have no idea where the Chinese mainland tourists are now. The streets here used to be full of them during the week-long holiday," said Shih Mei-yen, owner of the souvenir shop.

"Our shop could make at least 1 million new Taiwan dollars (about 32,910 U.S. dollars) per month. But now we only make about 300,000 new Taiwan dollars," she said.

Shih is not the only Taiwanese vendor feeling the impact of a sharp decrease of Chinese mainland tourists. Amy Lin, who runs a hotel in the Sun Moon Lake region, saw customers from the Chinese mainland drop by over 50 percent during the holiday in early October, especially those on package tours.

An online survey found that over 400 hotels and B&Bs across the island had been put up for sale due to sharp drops in customers.

About 1.75 million people from the Chinese mainland visited Taiwan from January to August, down by over one third year on year, according to the local tourism authority.

The local government is working to attract travelers from Southeast Asia and South Asia, along with Australia and New Zealand, to sustain the island's staggering tourism market.

However, statistics showed that Chinese mainland travelers spend nearly 200 U.S. dollars in Taiwan each day per person, while tourists from Southeast Asia only spend about 150 U.S. dollars per capita each day.

Southeast Asian tourists mainly buy inexpensive gadgets, while Chinese mainland tourists buy a lot of high-end products such as colored glaze art, Shih said.

Over 700 million domestic trips were made during the holiday that just ended, generating tourism revenue of over 583 billion yuan. Over six million people were estimated to have traveled overseas, with Moscow, St. Petersburg, Bangkok, Pattaya and Singapore being the most popular cities, according to the China National Tourism Administration.

Chinese mainland tourists visiting Taiwan increased by over 30 percent in the first four days of the holiday, according to the island's tourism authority.

The increase in Chinese mainland tourists might be short-lived and their numbers will continue to fall unless cross-strait ties improve, said Lu Shiao-ya, director of the island's joint association for the tourist bus industry, who noted that many tourist buses in Taiwan have had vacant seats.

The top official of the island's administrative organ openly advocated "Taiwan Independence" two weeks ago, fanning concerns about sharper drops in Chinese mainland tourists.

"We are both Chinese and we are family. I just hope more Chinese mainland tourists will come here and shop here to bring us prosperity," Shih said.