Civil servants travel allowance program boosting tourism

  • Date: 2017-01-06

I. Background

Travel within Taiwan is a cornerstone of the island’s tourism industry, which is why the new administration has been actively tapping the tourist markets of Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asian countries. The government is also promoting the New Southbound Policy to diversify into other tourism sources as the number of mainland Chinese tourists travelling to Taiwan continues to decline.

According to the Tourism Bureau, the total number of visitors to Taiwan in 2016 grew 2.4 percent year-on-year to 10.68 million, including 3.48 million from China and 7.2 million from other countries. As a percentage of total visitors, the number of non-mainland Chinese tourists increased from less than 60 percent the previous year to nearly 70 percent: Japanese and Korean tourists accounted for a record 27 percent (2.77 million); Southeast Asian and South Asian tourists accounted for 16 percent; Hong Kong and Macau tourists 15 percent; and European, American and Australian tourists 10 percent. So government efforts targeting Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia are clearly paying off.

During 2016, the number of tour groups from China dropped 16.23 percent from the previous year, impacting tourism businesses in certain regions of Taiwan. To counter this decline, the government has—in addition to diversifying tourist source markets—taken short-term stimulus measures to encourage domestic travel and upgrade the tourism industry. As of December 23, a total of 204,527 people had joined domestic group tours, generating approximately NT$807 million (US$25.2 million) in business opportunities. To further promote tourism development, the government implemented new rules on the Citizen’s Travel Card program on a one-year trial basis beginning January 1, 2017.

 

II. New program rules to spur domestic travel and demand, boost local tourism

A. Main points of the new rules

The Citizen’s Travel Card program, originally designed to encourage public sector employees to travel within Taiwan on their 14 mandatory days off, provides each civil servant with a travel allowance of up to NT$16,000 (US$500) a year. Restrictions were later relaxed to permit spending on non-travel expenses.

To encourage domestic travel while achieving the original purpose of the program, the new rules require those who use up more than NT$8,000 (US$250) of the allowance to spend at least NT$8,000 of it on domestic travel. (Those who use less than NT$8,000 need not spend it on travel).

B. Different modes of travel under the new rules

Under the new rules, the NT$8,000 allowance designated for travel purposes must be spent on one or more of the following forms of travel: (1) a travel agency-organized group tour designated by the government, (2) a travel agency-organized group tour selected by the civil servant, (3) a semi-independent package including accommodations, with transportation provided by the Taiwan Tour Bus or Taiwan Tourist Shuttle, and (4) an independent travel itinerary planned by the civil servant. The first three types will be implemented in January of 2017, while the fourth type will not be permitted until March.

The NT$8,000 travel allowance must also be spent on travel agencies. The Citizen’s Travel Card program website provides a list of more than 2,000 specially contracted travel agencies, and all group, semi-independent or independent tours within Taiwan qualify for the allowance. As the program’s reimbursement system is undergoing revision and testing, the reimbursement requests will be processed beginning January 20 for group and semi-independent tours, and March for independent tours.

C. Specially designed travel packages to boost tourism industry

1. To provide a sufficiently wide range of group tour options, the Tourism Bureau asked travel associations and agencies to recommend quality itineraries for public servants. The Travel Quality Assurance Association initially recommended 21 itineraries, while the National Scenic Area Administration, the Taiwan Tour Bus operator and local governments have also suggested some 180 travel routes for reference. This information is available on the Tourism Bureau’s website under the Citizen’s Travel Card group tours section, and a hotline has been set up to provide consultation services.

2. Since the new travel card program rules aim to promote the uniqueness of Taiwan’s overall tourism industry, the Tourism Bureau will gather feedback from all sectors to help travel agencies design more in-depth, themed packages (such as ecotourism) for civil servants. The government hopes growth in this type of travel will spill over to other industries such as restaurants, hotels, transportation, recreation and retail, achieving the policy goal of stimulating domestic demand.

 

III. Conclusion

Taiwan has an abundance of beautiful and diverse tourism resources that have drawn a record number of visitors despite the drop in Chinese tourists in 2016—an indication of the industry’s considerable potential. To encourage domestic travel and help operators upgrade and develop sustainably, the government is diversifying into more source markets, restructuring the tourism industry, and spurring domestic travel and demand through the travel card program.

New types of local travel experiences are also being developed to encourage innovation, sustainability and diversification while balancing the quality and quantity of tourism. The government will continue collaborating with the private sector to make Taiwan a top Asian destination offering a visitor-friendly environment, smart travel facilities and authentic experiences.