Travel agencies threaten protest over gov't U-turn on China group travel ban
Taipei, Feb. 8 (CNA) Local travel agencies on Thursday demanded the government provide a legitimate reason for its U-turn and the subsequent continuation of the ban on Taiwanese tour groups traveling to China, threatening to otherwise take to the streets in protest on the May 20 presidential inauguration day.
The government's decision to cancel the planned lifting of the three-year ban has thrown the travel industry into chaos, Travel Agent Association of Taiwan vice chair Eric Wu (吳雁輝) said at a press conference.
The continuation of the ban, originally introduced to prevent the spread of COVID-19, will have a considerable impact on local travel agencies, as China-bound tour groups constitute a significant amount of business, Wu said, adding that many stakeholders have expressed concerns.
Taiwan's Tourism Administration announced Wednesday that it was canceling its plan to allow group travel to China, citing recent hostilities from Beijing and the failure to send Chinese group tourists to Taiwan.
For instance, the administration said, Beijing unilaterally ended its "offset measure" on the M503 flight path -- which is west of the median line of the Taiwan Strait-- on Feb. 1, and also started operations on the W122 and W123 flight paths, which connect M503 with Fuzhou and Xiamen cities in Fujian Province.
Such actions not only go against the consensus reached by both sides, they also jeopardize flight safety, the Taiwanese government said.
Following the policy change, the administration said those who have arranged group travel with departure dates between March 1 and May 31 can still proceed, due to the need to protect their rights as tourists.
During an inspection tour Thursday, Transportation Minister Wang Kwo-tsai (王國材) said work was being done to try and add those booked to travel to China in June or later to the groups traveling between March and May, to minimize industry losses.
However, Wu said it would still be a headache for all involved because 70-80 percent of tours scheduled to depart in June have been booked up, and most agencies have also started accepting bookings for July and August.
Wu demanded that the government offer a "reasonable explanation" for its decision given that legal restrictions for the pandemic were lifted in July last year, particularly because individual travel is now allowed.
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