According to Taiwan’s tourism bureau, the number of foreign visitors to Taiwan in 2019 hit a record 11.84 million, a 7% increase from the previous year and the sharpest annual jump since 2014. Visitors from China, meanwhile, increased 0.5% from the previous year.
This came despite an announcement by Beijing in August that it would suspend trips to Taiwan by individual tourists, an attempt to hit the island’s economy so that voters would re-consider voting for president Tsai Ing-wen in this weekend’s general election. Tourist arrivals from China promptly plunged 60% the following month.
Some argue, however, that diversifying visitors away from Chinese groups is healthier for Taiwan’s domestic tourism industry: many local businesses that cater to the Chinese only receive a fraction of the money they spend, with most of the spoils going to Chinese tour organizers. Even so, workers who are reliant on business from Chinese tourists have staged protests to express their anger at Tsai’s China policies.
Tourist numbers from China to Taiwan have never quite recovered to the highs of the pre-2016 years, when a government that espoused closer ties to Beijing was in power in Taipei. Nonetheless, Taiwan has made up for that shortfall by luring tourists from other markets, mostly Japan and Southeast Asia, and by relaxing visa requirements for some countries. Last year, the number of visitors from Japan exceed 2 million for the first time.