Taiwanese authorities have rushed to dole out assurance and economic aid to travel agencies, hostels and malls catering to mainland Chinese tourists, after Beijing abruptly announced a moratorium on an individual visit scheme until after the island’s presidential election in January.

China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism on Wednesday banned 47 mainland cities from issuing new permits for individual tourists who plan to visit Taiwan, meaning mainlanders can only join guided tours to the self-ruled island.

It is estimated that Taiwan may receive 500,000 to 700,000 less tourists from China in the next six months.

Mainland tourists take picture of Taipei’s skyline. Photo: Central News Agency
A mainland visitor watches a performance by guards inside the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Photo: Central News Agency

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen told reporters on Thursday that she had already instructed departments in charge of tourism, transportation and economy to prepare a contingency plan for any travel ban by Beijing “months ago.” She said it was not the first time that Beijing had stopped its people from flocking to the island, out of the fear of mainlanders seeing with their own eyes the cut and thrust of a presidential election and how a genuine democracy works.

“China only becomes more abominable to Taiwanese when it uses its own citizens and limit their choices as a political means and bargaining chip,” Tsai said.

She added that to shed Taiwan’s reliance on tourist dollars from China, the government would roll out policies to woo tourists from elsewhere, in particular from Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia.

Taiwan received more than 11 million visitors from countries other than mainland China in 2018, an all time high.

Taiwan also aims to encourage its own people to travel and spend, with a new travel subsidy scheme that is expected to generate more than NT$25 billion (US$821 million) in revenues for the tourism sector, according to the Central News Agency.

The Executive Yuan will budget NT$3.6 billion for the program to counter the impact of Beijing’s travel ban. Each member of a guided group visiting any of the towns or tourist attractions shortlisted by the bureau will receive between NT$500-1,000 per day, while individual travelers can get NT$1,000. About 7.68 million travelers will benefit from the cash handout.