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Tour agents protest change in rules for Chinese tourists

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Local tour operators were upset about a policy change in handling the entry of Chinese tourists, after the government backed off from an earlier decision to allow Chinese visitors to enter the island in a convenient way starting June 1.

Hsu Kao-ching, secretary-general of Travel Agent Association of the ROC, criticized the government for “being unrealistic” upon learning that it might rescind the previous decision to tackle the issue under the “OK board” practice, which was agreed upon by government agencies during a meeting in early May.

The “OK board” service is a provisional arrangement internationally employed to help passengers who have obtained entry visas, but don't have them when they board a flight, to enter a country. Under the practice, tour operators will ask carriers to take this kind of passengers to their destinations anyway, as they are sure to get entry permits upon their arrival.

“The 'OK board' approach is just an interim practice to facilitate the entry of a growing number of inbound Chinese tourists before the government works out a solution to tackle the issue,” Hsu explained.

Due to a lack of a Taiwanese office to process visa applications in China, the temporary measures have been widely used for Chinese tourists coming to Taiwan, whose arrivals averaged nearly 4,000 per day in recent weeks.

Under this practice in Taiwan, tour operators distribute the entry visas to the Chinese tourists upon their arrival at Taiwan's airports.

“If the government is unwilling to authorize tour agents to distribute entry permits to Chinese tourists in airports' restricted areas, then it should find a solution for travel operators if it still wants to attract more Chinese tourists,” Hsu said.

Taiwan's National Immigration Agency, citing national security concerns, has voiced opposition to the plan to institute the interim measure.

According to Hsu, only about 20 percent of the Chinese visitors still need to enter Taiwan under the “OK board” practice at present.

“Amid frequent cross Taiwan Strait exchanges, many Chinese tour guides visiting Taiwan will help bring Taiwan-issued entry documents for Chinese people back to the mainland,” Hsu explained.

Although the immigration agency is considering extending the validity period of travel visas for Chinese people in Taiwan from one month to three months, Hsu was not positive about the idea.

“Chinese people are not used to making travel plans long before their departures, and they are required to pay all the travel fees to tour agencies before they can apply for an entry visa to Taiwan,” he said. “Who would be willing to spend the money three months before their departure?”