By Shelley Shan / Staff reporter
The Tourism Bureau on Monday raised the total reward for travel agencies that organize the most domestic tour groups during the COVID-19 pandemic to NT$1.1 billion (US$39.6 million) from NT$800 million announced previously.
People can also use travel vouchers, which would be issued soon, to pay for group tour fees, accommodation and other expenses as long as the services are offered by certified operators, it added.
Minister of Transportation and Communications Wang Kwo-tsai (王國材) on Thursday said that the bureau would allocate NT$2 billion to fund the distribution of travel vouchers — NT$1.2 billion on the vouchers themselves and NT$800 million on incentive bonuses for travel agencies that attract the most domestic travelers.
However, the announcement drew criticism from small and medium-sized travel agencies, which said that the program would only benefit large travel agencies that can afford large marketing campaigns to attract customers.
Industry representatives lauded the increase in reward money, as well as the decision to allow people to use vouchers more flexibly.
“We thank the government for listening to travel agents and making changes accordingly,” High-Quality Travel Association chairman Ringo Lee (李奇嶽) said.
The government could subsidize 35,000 domestic tour groups if each tour group were to receive a subsidy of NT$30,000, Lee said.
On average, each travel agency would have about 10 tour groups receiving government subsidies, he said.
The number of tour groups that can be subsidized with government funds should depend on the size of travel agencies, he added.
“We also hope the government will continue subsidizing the salaries of employees at travel agencies, as we are still unable to resume normal operations because of the government’s disease prevention regulations,” he added.
Lion Travel general manager Andy Yu (游國珍) said that more travel industry operators are eyeing business opportunities that would be created through the issuance of travel vouchers, now that they can be used to cover a variety of travel expenses.
“We will enhance the quality of domestic tour packages to attract customers, but we hope the government can offer more incentives to encourage travel agencies to organize quality theme tours,” Yu said.
The ministry should consider adjusting the number of passengers allowed on tour buses, given that it has been easing restrictions on other forms of transport, Yu said.
Only up to 20 passengers are allowed on tour buses, in accordance with the Central Epidemic Command Center’s (CECC) disease prevention guidelines.
In related news, the ministry on Monday relaxed disease prevention restrictions for amusement parks, national scenic areas and railway systems.
Visitors to national scenic areas can swim and surf as long as they observe social distancing and other disease prevention guidelines, and wear a mask when not in the water, it said, adding that certified business operators can organize snorkeling and scuba-diving tours.
Visitors can use the locker rooms and showers on condition that they provide contact information and observe disease prevention guidelines, it added.
People can also access swimming pools and other water sports facilities at amusement parks in accordance with the guidelines stipulated by the CECC and local health officials, the ministry said.
The Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) and Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp (THSRC) can sell up to 80 percent of the seats on express trains, up from 70 percent, it said, adding that eating and drinking would be allowed in non-paid areas inside TRA and THSRC stations and on the TRA’s tourist trains.
Tour buses that are used as shuttle buses by businesses or government agencies can carry the number of passengers pre-approved by the ministry.
Dine-in customers at highway and freeway service areas, non-paid areas inside railway stations and hotels are required to adhere to CECC guidelines, the ministry said.
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