Taiwan's US visa-waiver bid
Visa waiver to boost Taiwanese tourism to US by more than 20 percent
TAIPEI, Taiwan - The number of Taiwanese visitors to the United States could surge by more than 20 percent after Taiwan gains admission to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP), travel industry experts said Friday, a day after Taiwan was officially listed as a candidate for the VWP.
The listing paves the way for Taiwan to join the program, one of its major foreign affairs goals for many years.
"The number of Taiwanese travelers to the U.S. could increase by more than 20 percent after Taiwan obtains visa-waiver treatment," Roget Hsu, secretary-general of the Travel Agent Association of the Republic of China, said in an interview with CNA.
Hsu said the complicated process of applying for a U.S. visa and the high application fee have deterred many travelers from visiting the country.
"It is especially inconvenient for travelers from central and southern Taiwan, who have to travel to Taipei for their visa interviews and therefore have to spend extra for transportation and accommodation," Hsu said.
Taiwanese travelers have to pay more than NT$4,000 (US$132) each to apply for a U.S. visa.
Hu forecast that the number of Taiwanese travelers to South Korea this year could surpass those to the U.S., which has been the third most favored travel destination after China and Japan for local travelers in recent years.
Lion Travel Service Co., a major local travel agency, also forecast an increase of more than 20 percent in Taiwan visitors to the U.S.
"Visitor numbers could grow by 20 percent, or even 30 percent," said Yu Kuo-chen, senior manager and spokesman for the agency.
The number of people buying Lion Travel tours to Britain has increased five times since Britain included Taiwan in its visa-waiver program, and it is likely to be same for the U.S., he said.
In March 2009, Britain became the first European country to grant Taiwan visa-waiver privilege.
The complicated U.S. visa application process has contributed to the over 50 percent decline in group travel to the U.S. over the past 10 years, Yu said, citing internal statistics.
Despite the positive outlook for the U.S. travel market next year, Hsu said, it is not unlikely that visitor numbers will be "affected slightly" in the short term, as some travelers may postpone their travel plans until Taiwan is granted visa-waiver privilege.
Over the past three years, the number of countries or regions that allow visa waivers for Taiwanese passport holders has risen from 54 to 124.