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Travel industry expects boost in tourism from US visa waiver plan

TAIPEI--The number of Taiwanese visitors to the United States could surge by more than 30 percent after Taiwan is included in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, local travel agents said yesterday.

While the complicated process of applying for a U.S. visa and the high application fee have deterred many tourists from visiting the country, the planned inclusion of Taiwan in the program is expected to greatly boost travel interests, according to the Travel Agent Association of the Republic of China, Taiwan.

The U.S. is expected to announce Taiwan's inclusion in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program later in the day, according to diplomatic sources.

By being included in the program, Taiwanese nationals will be able to visit the United States without a visa but will still need to apply for an electronic travel authorization online for a fee of US$14. The authorization will be valid for a two-year period.

Currently, Taiwanese travelers have to pay NT$4,800 (US$163.7) to apply for a U.S. visa.

The program could also make U.S. travel seem like a fun experience again. The number of Taiwanese people traveling to the U.S. has been on the decline over the past decade due to tighter security measures after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack, explained association Secretary-general Roget Hsu.

According to the Tourism Bureau, about 400,000 Taiwanese people visited the U.S. last year — a big drop from the peak of more than 650,000 visitors in 2000.

“Compared with the European Union Visa Waiver Program, the effects of the U.S. visa waiver status could be even more prominent in the long run,” Hsu said.

The EU granted Taiwan visa free status in January 2011. This permitted Taiwanese to enter 35 European countries visa-free for stays of up to 90 days within a six month period.

From previous experience, Hsu said, the number of Taiwanese people traveling to countries that gave Taiwan nationals visa free treatment grew by some 30 percent after the visa free status was granted.

Hsu predicted that an immediate travel surge will take place in Hawaii tours since its tropical climate might be appealing to people who want to visit the U.S. this winter.

Anthony Liao, president of Taiwan-based Phoenix Tours International Inc., a publicly listed company, is even more optimistic about the program, predicting that growth in the number of Taiwanese passport holders traveling to the U.S. is estimated at 30 to 50 percent after visa waiver privileges take effect.

“Promoting U.S. travel will be our main focus in the upcoming travel fair,” Liao said, referring to the Taipei International Travel Fair to be held on Oct. 26-29.

He said the U.S. visa waiver status is expected to help boost business for local travel agencies in the final quarter of this year and the whole of 2013.

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