TAIPEI, CHINA - TAKINGS are thin for Taiwanese guide Edven Lin, who hasn't been hired by a single Chinese tour group this month, but he's hoping for a lift when the island's new government takes power next month.
Of some 20,000 licensed tour guides in Taiwan, 'maybe only one in a hundred has worked in the past few months', he said, with the number of visitors from mainland China trickling from hundreds to just dozens a day.
That was in part due to political tensions between Taiwan and China, which still claims sovereignty over the island.
But that may be about to change after the Kuomintang party's Ma Ying-jeou won a landslide over the pro-independence ruling party candidate in the March 22 presidential vote.
He had campaigned on a pledge to boost Taiwan's sluggish economy, vowing to mend relations with China and increase trade, tourism and transport links.
Already, he has announced his incoming administration will work with China to launch weekend charter flights between Taiwan and the mainland in July, and says up to 3,000 Chinese tourists a day will be allowed to visit.
The move is a big step for Taiwan, which banned direct trade and transport exchanges with the mainland after 1949, and has severely restricted visits to the island ever since.
Analysts say the decades of political hostility have deterred investors - Beijing has repeatedly threatened to invade Taiwan if it declares independence - and damaged the island's economy.
'A number of local enterprises and foreign companies who have invested here have blamed political tensions for their reluctance to expand their investments in Taiwan,' said Mr Wu Chung-shu, management dean at Taiwan's National Dong Hwa University. 'Now the negative factor of the risk of war has gone.'
This month Standard and Poor's revised its outlook on the credit rating of Taiwan to stable from negative.
Mr Ma's efforts to improve relations have already begun to pay off. On April 12, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Taiwan's vice-president-elect Vincent Siew enjoyed the highest-level contact ever between the two sides.
Mr Lin, the tour guide, hopes to take up to five tour groups a month to visit the island's sights, and local tour agents are also eager.
'We've waited too long. Since 2001, we have been expecting the coming of spring and the blossoming of flowers. But we have been disappointed year after year,' said Mr Anthony Liao, president of Taiwan's leading tour agency Phoenix Tours.
Mr Liao said 3,000 Chinese a day would bring 'opportunities worth at least 60 billion Taiwan dollars (S$2.7 billion) a year for local restaurants, hotels, bus companies and tour agents'.
'Around 30,000 jobs could be created, and the domestic unemployment rate could be reduced by one percentage point.'
Mr Ma himself has promised annual growth of six percent, up from the current estimated 4.5 per cent, and a three per cent drop in unemployment within eight years.
Ms Wang Yen-wen, whose husband runs a restaurant in the coastal township of Fengpin - a handy restpoint between the scenic Hualien and Taitung cities - is pinning her hopes on new arrivals too.
She said Chinese visitors have accounted for half its revenue in the last five years since Taiwan's sluggish economy brought a sharp fall in the number of domestic customers.
Mr Bentham Hung, managing director of the consultancy Mega Wealth, said the construction and property sectors were also set to benefit from the change in government, which may allow Chinese to invest here.
A group of Chinese property developers arrived on Monday in Taipei to survey the market.
However, professor Lin Wei-shong of the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology, cautioned Mr Ma against putting all his eggs in one basket.
'Initially, Chinese tourists may be curious about the island - after all, Taiwan and China have been separated for such a long time. But the problem is, will they want to come back again?'
Mr Liao, of Phoenix Tours, also warned that quality could suffer if too many Chinese visitors came before facilities and services were upgraded.
'So from a long-term point of view, suddenly allowing in too many Chinese tourists may not be good for Taiwan,' he said. 'It's best that it can be done step by step.' -- AFP