AFP reports that tour operators in Taiwan remain skeptical of the big boom coming from Chinese tourism. Although the arguments that they give are often driven by cross-cultural prejudice:

Taiwan has restricted trade and travel since its split from the mainland in 1949 but the election of Beijing-friendly Ma Ying-jeou in March opened the door to warmer ties.

In a sign of rapprochement, the two sides last month held their first direct talks in a decade and signed agreements to launch the flights and treble the number of Chinese allowed to visit the island to 3,000 daily.

It’s common for the media to present Chen as “limiting” ties but Ma as opening them. 1,000 or 3,000, it is still a limit. What Ma did was attempt to expand the cap. Note, however, that AFP leaves out the reality we learned last week: that China is still limiting tourists to under 1,000 a day with no concrete plan to raise the total, just vague promises.

Tourism officials hope the extra visitors, beside promoting cordial people-to-people exchanges, will bring in 60 billion Taiwan dollars (1.97 billion US) annually, a big boost to local trade.

Observe again that this information on the Tourism Cargo Cult is given without any caveats, even though investment analysts and prominent academics have said that the boost will not be great even if we have 3,000 sheep to shear each day.

“The agreements might look good on paper but I dare not think how much I can profit from that with a slow economy, rising inflation and high fuel prices,” said Wu Shih-chih, who hires out yachts to tourists.

“I will not consider buying a new yacht or other equipment unless I can see a steady increase in business within six months,” said Wu, who has four craft taking visitors around Sun Moon Lake, a popular destination in central Taiwan.

Others are concerned that Chinese tourists, sometimes seen as loud and ill-mannered, could drive away other international travellers.

“We have fewer Japanese visitors since the government opened up to more mainlanders,” lamented a bus driver who works for a leading travel agency in Taipei.

“I am not thrilled at receiving the mainlanders because they can be proud and impolite, they think China is so important in the world,” said the driver, who asked not to be named.

Jack Lee, manager of a Taipei travel agency, said he often gets complaints from restaurants or shops that Chinese tour groups are too noisy or pay no attention to no-smoking signs.

“Some waiters also complained that Chinese customers throw bones or leftovers on the floor instead of leaving them on the plates or let cigarette ash fall everywhere,” Lee said, although most were willing to oblige when told.

The boorishness of Chinese is a commonplace observation, but note the bus driver’s comment that there are fewer Japanese coming since they got more Chinese. An interesting comment, especially since there aren’t more Chinese. The limit hasn’t risen, and the island will get the same “boost” it always got.

I’m curious how the KMT Administration will portray tourism gains, because this year the island might well get four million tourists, a new record — arrivals equal to over 1/6 of the population. The China Post reported:

Of the inbound tourists so far this year, those from South Korea recorded the highest annual increase of 42%, followed by a 35% gain for those from Hong Kong and Macao, and a 27% surge for tourists from Malaysia.

Given the sharp growth, the number of inbound tourists is expected to not only exceed the historical high of 3.72 million recorded in 2007, but also break the 4 million mark to hit a new high this year, according to the Tourism Bureau.

After Ma Ying-jeou is sworn in as new president on May 20, the new government is expected to step up liberalizing entry of mainland Chinese tourists. This is expected to significantly vitalize Taiwan’s tourism sector, with enterprises busy building new tourist hotels and setting up new travel agencies.

In fact, Taiwan’s agro-tourism in the form of leisure farms is attracting increasing numbers of foreign visitors, especially from Singapore, and has won much praise in the area of service, an official of the Council of Agriculture (COA) said yesterday.

To help transform the farming sector into a service industry, the government is trying to develop agro-tourism, which gives tourists a taste of life in the Taiwanese countryside and its produce, along with human interest in the form of the farmers themselves, the COA official said.

“Agro-tourism.” Selling nostalgia to Singaporeans…. It is interesting to compare — Japan had 8.34 million tourists visit in 2007, despite being much larger than Taiwan is. Thailand gets about 15 million tourist arrivals. And the Philippines with all those beautiful beaches? Just over 3 million in ‘07. Malaysia, on the other hand, reached nearly 21 million arrivals. For a country with neither ruins nor beaches nor internationally famed culture, Taiwan does pretty well for itself. Need to develop those mountains for trekking, though.

Will the KMT take the rising numbers (which would have risen anyway) and attribute the growth to the “success” of its policy of bringing warm bodies in from China? I’d bet money…

Speaking of the Philippines, the KMT-CCP lovefest is creasing the foreheads of investment recruiters all over the Pacific, as it may mean that Taiwan money will flow to China instead of elsewhere. A recruiter in the RP argued:

Jackson Gan, vice president of the Federated Association of Manpower Exporters (FAME), urged the government to revise its investment policies and attract Taiwanese industrialists to move their small- and medium-scale factories to Northern Luzon.

“The warming relations between Taiwan and China marked by the first direct flight last July 4, 2008 from Guangzhou to Taipei is a wake-up call for government policy makers to revised trade and investment rules for Taiwanese businessmen still eager to do business in the country,” Gan said in a statement.

He added, “Taiwan’s increasing trade and cultural ties with China will encourage more Taiwanese industrialists to put up factories in China, endangering the jobs of over 100,000 Filipino workers who are the backbone of the manufacturing, electronics and assembly operations of hundreds of factories in Taiwan.”

Is there really such a great threat?