Taipei, June 27 (CNA) The number of Chinese nationals visiting Taiwan under an independent traveler program has remained below the daily quota, but government officials said Wednesday the results during the first year were good enough.
The free independent traveler (FIT) program, which kicked off on June 28, 2011, initially allowed up to 500 tourists from the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen to visit Taiwan per day without having to be part of a tour group.
Although the program started off slowly, attracting only about 30,000 Chinese tourists by the end of 2011, the numbers grew to nearly 49,000 in the first five months of this year, according to Tourism Bureau statistics.
Though that still represented an average of just under 330 people a day, the Tourism Bureau remained positive about the progress made during the initiative's first year.
"The program is going smoothly from our perspective," said Yang Yeong-sheng, director of the bureau's Hotel, Travel and Training Division
"You can't expect a new program like this to generate impressive results quickly. I think we have done well so far," he said.
Yang said he remained optimistic about the program because of warming cross-strait ties, which have led to its expansion.
Since April 28 this year, the program has also been open to residents from Tianjin, Chongqing, Nanjing, Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Chengdu, and the daily quota was raised to 1,000 travelers.
Altogether, over 100,000 Chinese nationals have successfully applied for the program in its first year, with newly participating cities accounting for about 5 percent of the total, according to National Immigration Agency figures.
Defending the program and its sluggish start, Ho Jung-tsun, the agency's deputy director-general, said he expected it to pick up momentum later in the year.
"The number of visitor arrivals could easily break 700 per day by September," he said, explaining that China will be entering a busy travel season as the week-long national holiday begins in October.
But Roget Hsu, secretary-general of Taiwan's Travel Agent Association, said he was not as confident of strong growth because of the program's major restrictions.
"It's too expensive and too inconvenient for a tourist to get travel documents processed," Hsu said, explaining that Chinese tourists usually pay 1,000 Chinese Yuan (US$157) to apply for permits that should cost around one-fifth of that.
"Both sides need to provide more transparent and comprehensive services before we see the numbers surge," he said.
Aside from calls to streamline the application process, other initiatives are being taken to make the program work better.
The Tourism Bureau said it is working with Taiwanese businesses to promote Taiwan's unique culture in hopes to draw young backpackers -- regarded as the main source of independent travelers.
Yuan Kai-chih, section chief of the bureau's International Affairs Division, said the bureau is partnering with the production team of a Taiwanese movie, "Double Trouble," to offer Chinese tourists a limited number of trips to experience Taiwan.
Yuan said the comedy, which is about a Chinese tourist who loses his way during his journey in Taiwan and decides to travel around the country with a young Taiwanese man, has so far engaged many Chinese viewers.
"The young generation usually has different expectations about Taiwan," Yuan said. "We hope to stir their travel interest in creative ways."
(By Lee Hsin-Yin)