Reuters reports on United Daily News (UDN) claims that Chinese tourists in Taiwan spent big:

Chinese tourists who just finished a historic trip to Taiwan, which normally bans them for security reasons, spent about T$40 million ($1.3 million), a perk for the island’s sagging economy, local media said on Saturday.

Some of the 762 China visitors who came to Taiwan for eight days on the first direct weekend charter flights from July 4 bought made-in-Taiwan souvenirs, LV handbags and other high-end merchandise at expensive malls, such as SOGO and Taipei 101, in the island’s capital, the United Daily News reported.

“The T$40 million spent by mainland China tourists over the past eight days is still a conservative estimate,” the paper said.

“Yesterday no small number of tourists were saying ‘we spent more than you imagine.’”

Do the math, as the friend who sent this to me observed, and you’ll see that works out to $1700 a person, or about what any tourist might spend on a weekend of high-end shopping, or an ordinary stay in a country with prices like Taiwan’s. Not much purchased appears to be of local origin. Also note that UDN, which is not exactly a paragon of journalistic integrity, does not appear to give anything on the origin of the data.

A good thing, though, about the article, is the China Annexation Formula, which says:

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists (KMT) fled to the island. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.

“…Since 1949.” A quite subtle reminder that China’s claim to Taiwan is purely a postwar invention. Finally, note the obligatory nod to Our Sucky Economy:

In a sign of detente, the two sides agreed last month to launch direct Friday-through-Monday charter flights in part to let increasingly wealthy China tourists visit Taiwan, where the economy faces inflation, wage stagnation and employment issues.

It speaks the plain truth — we have problems with stagnant incomes and inflation — and does not repeat the KMT propaganda that our economy sucks. Kudos to Jennings there.

++++++

The Economist has an in-depth piece on the issue up:

For all the hullabaloo, though, these flights marked only an incremental advance. Similar flights began running five years ago during limited holiday periods, and have increased in frequency since. None of that dimmed the enthusiasm of the mainland tourists who enjoyed the chance to see for themselves a place they had heard so much about—for good and ill. Nearly 700 made the trip during the first weekend. They spent a short time taking in a carefully selected set of sights in Taipei before heading off to other parts of the island. One sensitive site they were not allowed to visit was the memorial to Chiang Kai-shek, a former KMT leader and bitter foe of Mao Zedong who brought his government to Taiwan in 1949 after losing China’s civil war.

The Chinese tourists were also prohibited from leaving their chaperoned groups. Taiwanese travel agents said this reflected concerns on both sides. Mainland authorities did not want to run the risk of attempted defections, and Taiwan wanted to keep potential spies from roaming where they should not. Exceptions, however, were made for shopping. Johnny Tsai, manager of the China Times Travel Service, said his group of 109 mainlanders were allowed to run off on their own at a department store in the southern city of Kaohsiung, and spent heroically there.

For the newly installed KMT government, that may be as important as any boost to the politics of cross-strait relations. Since taking office in May, President Ma Ying-jeou has faced pressure to reinvigorate the economy. Annual growth remains above the 4% mark and inflation below it, but share prices have been tumbling and concerns are growing over widening inequality and looming economic stagnation. Soaring fuel prices and a global slowdown limit Mr Ma’s room for manoeuvre. An influx of well-heeled, free-spending mainland tourists therefore seems just the ticket. Some economists predict it could add as much as 0.5 percentage points to the annual growth rate.

Others doubt that. Mr Tsai wonders whether his first carefully selected group of the rich and “high-level” will be typical of future visitors. Chen-wei Lin of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) says that the economic benefits of mainland tourism are unknown and that Mr Ma is overstretching when he promises worried Taiwanese that Chinese tourism will save their economy. Mr Lin also faults Mr Ma for failing to secure a matching cargo-flight arrangement, which he believes would be far more lucrative for Taiwan.

Nicely put, giving a more complex view of the economic issues, and correctly noting that the agreement on tourism does not include what we really need, cargo flights and direct shipping links, which apparently are going to be negotiated this fall. The Economist noted in passing that the visitors were prohibited from visiting the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial.

+++++

The Independent has a very positive article on travel in Taiwan, including a visit to the exotic Rukai:

Accommodation is in guesthouses and homestays. “You’ll be staying with the village chief, Ragaro,” says Mr Jeng. The friendly chief and his wife don’t speak English but they welcome me in with smiles. “This is his skull collection,” says Mr Jeng as Chief Ragaro proudly shows me hundreds of boar skulls. “A Rukai warrior’s status is measured by the number of skulls he has.”

OK, so you might wince at this, but it does pull in the tourist dollars.

Finally, if you want to play tourist yourself, Siberian mammoths frozen out of time are on display in Taipei beginning a few days ago…

UPDATE: The Real Taiwan has a long, great post on this topic.