Bangkok, Jan. 20 (CNA) Taiwan's visa-free treatment of Thai nationals has stirred up interest and could nearly double Thai visitor arrivals in Taiwan to around 360,000 in 2017, the Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA) said Friday.In 2016, 195,640 people from Thailand visited Taiwan, slightly higher than the 180,000 estimated earlier in the year by Taiwan's government, and the TTAA attributed the growth to Taiwan's visa-free policy.Thai visitor growth was particularly strong in the fourth quarter, when their numbers rose 85 percent year-on-year with the help of the visa-free program that took effect in August.Citizens of Thailand and Brunei have been allowed to visit Taiwan without a visa under the one-year trial program as part of Taiwan's "new southbound policy" that seeks to strengthen Taiwan's relations with Southeast Asia.TTAA Vice President Adith Chairattananon said his group is upbeat about an increase in Thai arrivals at Taiwan this year and will do its best to promote Taiwan as an ideal destination for Thai travelers.At a conference held by the TTAA in Bangkok on Friday to encourage Thai travel agencies to organize tours to Taiwan, about 120 travel agencies showed up, 20 more than expected. Only 50 to 60 companies typically attended similar conferences in the past, the TTAA said.The high turnout reflected the growing interest in Taiwan among Thai travel operators since Thai nationals were given visa-free status in August.Adith was confident that as long as the visa-free treatment continued and airlines provided more flights the number of Thai arrivals in Taiwan could reach 360,000 in 2017.The TTAA executive said many Thai tourists are interested in Taiwan's New Year countdown parties, in particular the one held in front of the Taipei 101 skyscraper, one of Taiwan's best known landmarks.More than 500 Thai tourists took chartered flights to attend the 2016 countdown party in front of Taipei 101, Adith said, and he believed other countdown parties around Taiwan could also attract Thai visitors.The New Southbound Policy is an initiative pushed by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government to develop closer ties with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members and India.The DPP government, which took office in May 2016, hopes the policy will diversify investment and trade so that Taiwan is less economically dependent on China, including in tourism.The new government is less well-disposed toward Beijing than the pro-China Kuomintang administration that came before it, and Beijing has taken a harder line against Taiwan as a result, including reducing the number of Chinese visitors.The number of Chinese tourists to Taiwan in 2016 fell to 3.51 million from 4.18 million in 2015, and industry sources say the number could fall further to 2.1 million in 2017, making it unlikely Taiwan can attract 10 million foreign visitors this year has it has the past two years.
TTAA held a conference in Bangkok to encourage Thai travel agencies to organize tours to Taiwan. (Photo courtesy of CNA)
(Courtesy of CNA)