Following reports last week that China was seeking to renew a ban on the sale of tour group packages, an official at Taiwan’s tourism bureau has stated that China is not banning the sale of tour packages. Liu Shih-ming at Taiwan’s tourism bureau is claiming that the drop in tour groups, expected at 20 percent, is due to a change in a Chinese travel law, amended in 2016. According to the amendment, a single license will be issued to tour guides, qualifying them to lead tour groups. Before, the two licenses were separate, making it easier to qualify to lead tour groups.

Taiwanese tourism officials claim that the drop in tour groups is due to amendments to licensing laws and is not a “tourism ban”

The previous report of a tour ban was based on information from Taiwanese travel industry professionals, like Cheng An Travel Service Co-President Wu Pi-lian. The recent earthquake in Hualien, in southeastern Taiwan, was cited as one potential reason for the reduction of tour groups.

Jing Travel has confirmed that tour package sales beyond June 2018 are unavailable online.

Nonetheless, it is still likely that tour groups will be banned from entering Taiwan from October to December in Taiwan due to local elections. Given the contentious relationship between Taiwan and China, it is unlikely that Chinese officials want Chinese citizens to witness democratic campaigning and elections. China claims sovereignty over Taiwan and maintains the Taiwanese government, officially the Republic of China, is an illegitimate government.

Historically, tourism from China has been restricted in election years

While it’s certainly possible that the drop in Chinese tour groups is due to a ban or the amendment to the laws regarding licensing coming into effect, it underlines the opaque nature of how the Chinese government restricts the flow of travel from China abroad.

For example, while it’s clear that South Korea has been the target of a travel ban because of the deployment of the THAAD missile defense system, the Chinese government has continued to deny that any such ban is in place. This denial in spite of the obvious existence of the ban is possibly to give the Chinese government plausible deniability to avoid being penalized for unfair trade practices.

There is no evidence at this time of the CNTA issuing directives to Chinese companies restricting the sale of tour packages

Travel bans in the past have been instituted at the behest of the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA), which issues directives to tour agencies instructing them to cease selling tour packages to particular destinations. Such directives do not affect individual travel. Restricting such travel would be more difficult and require substantial alteration to visa and transit laws for Chinese citizens, as well as remove any plausible deniability for the government in regards to international trade law.

Reports of any such directives regarding Taiwan have not surfaced. Nonetheless, given that such a licensing law would affect the flow of tour groups from China to all destinations, it seems likely that there would be a drop in the number of available tour groups in many destinations, not simply Taiwan. Moreover, it’s unclear why this law is only being implemented now if it was amended in 2016.

There is currently no evidence of any such drop across the board, implying that either tour agencies have restricted the sale of tour packages to Taiwan or that the law in question is being selectively implemented for tour groups to Taiwan. Of course, the peculiarities of travel between Taiwan and China for citizens on both sides of the strait has caused issues, as both Taiwan and China do not officially consider one another separate countries. This may be another manifestation of the unique Sino-Taiwanese diplomatic relationship.