TAIPEI—The first plane from Manila landed in Taipei on Wednesday as Taiwan commenced a trial 9-month visa-free travel regime for visitors from the Philippines.
Among its passengers was a Filipino media crew invited by the Taipei city government to taste local delicacies and visit tourist attractions in the capital city.
Sig Aldeen, a blogger and television host making his first-ever visit to Taiwan, said he never had Taiwanese cuisine before. After tasting Taiwanese hamburger and stinky tofu, he said their very distinct flavors impressed him.
The media workers were welcomed by Taipei's Deputy Mayor Chen Chin-jun, who said he hopes they enjoy their stay in Taiwan and will help to promote the island's tourist attractions and food after they return to the Philippines.
Statistics show that more than 200,000 visitors came to Taiwan from the Philippines from January to September this year, a 70 percent increase compared with the same period last year.
The Manila Economic and Culture Office, the Philippines' de facto embassy in Taiwan in the absence of formal diplomatic relations, welcomed the Taiwanese government's decision to grant visa-free entry to Filipinos for up to two weeks for tourism, business, visiting relatives and other purposes.
Its Deputy Representative Carlo Aquino told Kyodo News that he expects the program will "open the floodgates for Filipinos who wish to visit Taiwan as tourists but were stymied by the stringent visa requirements imposed by the Taiwan office in Manila before the adoption of the new policy."
The program is partly aimed at advancing the government's "New Southbound Policy" that covers the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, six South Asian countries, Australia and New Zealand.
It hopes visitors from those countries could offset a significant slump in tourists from mainland China, which had displaced Japan as the largest source of visitors in 2010.
There has already been a significant increase in visitors from ASEAN countries since Taiwan relaxed visa rules for them in August last year. Over 200 million of them came during the year before that, up from about 1.5 million the previous year.
Malaysians and Singaporeans already enjoy full-fledged 30-day visa-free entry to Taiwan, while the same applies to passport holders from Brunei and Thailand during a trial period lasting until July 31 next year.