Taiwan will become the hot destination for ASEAN travellers as the Taiwanese government decided to further relax visa rules. Last November, Taiwan added four ASEAN nations -Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam- to its simplified visa procedure for tourist groups. Individuals from these countries did not need to submit proof of employment and financial documents with their visa applications if they travel as part of groups organized by agencies authorized by Taiwan Tourism Bureau (under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Transportation and Communication) or on corporate incentive trips. In addition, the tourists were able to enjoy fee-free visa services. Following visa-waiver procedures for citizens from Malaysia and Singapore, Taiwan extended on August 1st its visa waiver program to Thailand and Brunei.
Streamlined visa application program is also been extended to Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.Citizens of these three nations are allowed to apply online for Taiwan visas if they previously held travel visas or resident permits for Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the EU or the U.S.. The adopted policy is part of efforts to expand bilateral exchanges and promote the ‘New Southbound Policy’ of Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen. It is also possible that worsening relations with Mainland China (the Chinese government consequently asked travel agencies to boycott Taiwan as a tour group destination) helped to speed up the country’s opening towards ASEAN.
Tourism Bureau Director-General David Hsieh indicated to Taiwanese media that the number of visitors from Southeast Asia was around 1.42 million last year, the equivalent of 13.5% of all foreign tourist arrivals to the country. “After the easing of visa restrictions, we expect to see an annual increase of at least 20 percent in visitor numbers from the region for 2016, generating foreign exchange earnings of NT$13 billion [US$400 million].” This would translate into 300,000 additional tourists this year. ASEAN visitors will probably reach the 2-million travellers’ mark in 2017.
The Tourism Bureau is at the forefront of government efforts to tap the economic potential of ASEAN inbound tourism markets. According to the Executive Yuan, a series of marketing and promotional campaigns are to be launched in Thailand as well as Indonesia and Vietnam to promote Taiwan as a world-class destination.
The new policy will certainly foster more flights between Taiwan and Southeast Asia. From Thailand, two low cost carriers, Tigerair Taiwan and Nokscoot fly already between Taipei and Bangkok. Thai AirAsia is certainly the next on the list. AirAsia group flies for now to Taiwan (Taipei and Kaohsiung) from Clark in the Philippines and Kuala Lumpur. Outbound Taiwan to ASEAN reached 1.88 million in 2015, up by 22% over 2014. From that number, Thailand was the most popular ASEAN destination with 600,000 Taiwanese travellers, followed by Vietnam with 409,000 and Singapore with 318,000 travellers.