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Welcoming the World

Taiwan's Tourism Takes Off


Whether it's hitting the beach, climbing a peak, taking in the glitz of the big city, or exploring the countryside, Taiwan is gearing up for a greater influx of visitors.



Taiwan's Tourism Takes Off

By Jau-Yi Wu
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 389 )

With Taiwan's next presidential elections approaching in March, the topic of allowing mainland Chinese tourists to freely visit Taiwan is again a prevalent topic. On January 8, several media reports quoted Dai Xiaofeng, head of the PRC State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office exchange bureau, as he declared, via the official Xinhua News Agency, 'For a long time, no technical problems have existed for mainland tourists to go to Taiwan ? the problem is political.'

Certainly, the experiences of Hong Kong prove that opening one's borders to China's tourists will greatly boost local tourism. But is this the only way?

Perhaps not. What Taiwan's tourism industry needs is both quantitative and qualitative growth.

'If we open Taiwan up to mainland tourists and they begin arriving at the rate of 10,000 a day, 3.65 million a year, what happens when that tide recedes'? wonders a concerned Janice Lai, who has been serving as director general of Taiwan's Tourism Bureau (TBROC) for the past 13 months. 'Taiwan needs not only to further open its borders to tourism, but also to diversify it,' she says, describing her new development strategy.

The Joys of Touring Taiwan

Should you visit a beachside coffee shop along Cianshuei Bay in Taipei County's Sanjhih Township, or the Seshui pottery kilns near Sun Moon Lake in Nantou, or an old hiking trail in Hsinchu, don't be too surprised if you have company, be it Cantonese speakers from Hong Kong, ethnic Chinese from Singapore, or a wide assortment of Westerners.

Taiwan's image as a tourist destination is maturing overseas.

Statistics show that over 3.35 million foreigners visited Taiwan from January to November of 2007, a 5 percent increase over the same period in 2006. This is a far cry from the numbers for nearby Hong Kong (25.38 million) and Singapore (9.32 million). Yet a closer look reveals that in the first eleven months of 2007, 1.45 million foreign visitors, or 43 percent of the total, arrived in Taiwan for the purpose of tourism alone ?V a 10 percent increase from five years ago.

Since 2007, Lai has been laying the groundwork to encourage world travelers to come to Taiwan.

She first asked industry colleagues to find out which foreign travel agencies are promoting tours to Taiwan, and how they promote them. In the case of Japan ?V the country with the largest number of visitors to Taiwan ?V Lai notes that the older generation has a good impression of the island, though the younger generation is familiar with Taipei alone.

At the inauguration of the Taiwan High Speed Rail last year (using trains from Japan), the TBROC invited 300 travel agency managers from Japan on a tour of central and southern Taiwan. The invitation paid off. While the number of tourists going abroad from Japan in 2007 showed negative growth, the number of tourists to Taiwan continued to increase.

Wedding Photo Op Hot Spot

The continuous development of new tourism products is important, as it will create more reasons for tourists to come to Taiwan.

The TBROC is currently developing six major new tourism itineraries: hiking and mountaineering, salon photo shoots and honeymoons, nostalgic tours for seniors, health and medicine, Taiwanese pop culture tours, and sports tourism.

Leading a group of 35 'Taiwan salespersons' with an average age of 30, the youngest International Affairs Division director in the history of the TBROC, Wayne Liu, tells us that Taiwan, while small, has many little-known unique features.

The island boasts 258 mountains over 3,000 feet, with Jade Mountain towering at their center, while Japan is home to only 10. A group of Austrian mountaineers stayed 16 days in Taiwan last year, and ten more Austrian mountaineering groups are already scheduled to visit in 2008. Approximately 500 couples from Hong Kong choose to take their wedding photos in Taiwan each month.

The hundreds of rural towns and villages sprinkled throughout Taiwan are also popular destinations for foreign visitors. A tourism village developed in rural Nantou County following the devastating Jiji earthquake of 1999 has a loyal following among Singaporean tourists, who come back to this little farming village a few days a year to work pottery and play with fireworks.

Su Shui-ting, head of the Seshui Community Development Association, proudly tells us that many mainland Chinese businessmen extended their stays in Taiwan last year, pleasantly surprised at the high tourism standards of the island's rural villages.

The Future Rests on Quality

The greatest longstanding challenge to the success of Taiwan's tourism industry, with regard to international competition, has been a negative image of 'low-price, low-quality.'

Not long after taking over in November 2006, Lai zeroed in on this issue with an iron fist, enforcing a new policy that tours catering to tourists from China may not cost less than US$80 per day. This caused travel industry businesses to protest, blockading the TBROC office with large tour buses.

But Lai was unmoved, convinced that without quality, no mainland Chinese tourist would be enticed to return to Taiwan. 'Of course, numbers are important, but without a consideration for quality, there will be no future for tourism in Taiwan,' Lai insists. According to the latest opinion poll conducted by the TBROC, Taiwan was given an overall satisfaction rating of 85 percent by tourists from China.

Working for the advancement of tourism, Lai takes hardly any weekend breaks, and has earned a bad shoulder for her troubles. Chang Ching-lai, chairman of Yilan County's Shangrila Leisure Farm, hails her as 'the Matsu of Taiwanese tourism' (referring to the legendary sea goddess and protectress of the people).

Having given half her life to the TBROC, this Matsu knows that while certain aspects of Taiwan's tourism industry are not picture perfect, 'there are definitely opportunities for success if we work hard.'

Translated from the Chinese by Ellen Wieman

Chinese Version: 台灣觀光突圍記