Editorial: Time to shape up Taiwan’s tourism

by Taiwan News Editors

Back in the heydays of Taiwan’s economic miracle, the emphasis on tourism development was pretty much non-existent, as the government’s primary initiative was largely placed on rapid industrialization and economic growth.

Today, more than 40 years on, it is evident that the industry has become the one on which many nations depend on – in terms of significant extent for employment, GDP growth, foreign exchange, and to some extent, a window for rapidly changing consumer trends.

While the latest statistics have yet to be released by the Tourism Bureau later in March, recent data provided by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) showed that in 2014, tourism contributed 5.5 percent to Taiwan’s GDP, with tourism revenue reaching NT$882.5 billion, and the figure is expected to rise by 1 percent in 2015 to NT$1,196 billion (5.6 percent of GDP).

Meanwhile, Taiwan welcomed its 10 millionth visitor on December 20, a new record and a milestone for the island nation. Among those, Chinese tourists accounted for more roughly 40 percent of the total, followed by the Japanese at 17 percent, Hong Kong/Macau at 13 percent, and so forth.

In retrospect, it’s been only less than a decade ago since Taiwan opened its doors to visitors from China. In 2008, President Ma Ying-jeou, who advocates closer ties with Beijing, began granting permission for Chinese citizens to tour the island nation. The influx of mainland tourists has since then flourished.

But the Chinese money train comes at a price – a rude awakening.

To date, tourists from China are still, unfortunately, notorious for their boorish behavior as more spread their wings and travel abroad. Not to say that local visitors don’t have their moments, but in most places they visit, they tend to leave trails that are far from desirable – one noticeable trait is noise and the lack of manners, as the locals would often put it.

Earlier in November, mainland tourism authorities had ordered a 95 percent cut in the number of Taiwan-bound tourists at the height of Taiwan’s general elections. Today, there are even media speculations that Beijing would again significantly curtail the number of visitors to Taiwan now that Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party have seized power back from the Ma’s Kuomintang.

For businesses that benefited largely from Chinese tourists, this might worry some people, but to the average Joe, it might be a welcoming sight.

And should this is the case, how would the new government under President-elect Tsai respond to the void left out by the Chinese after they step into office?

In a nutshell, it is high time that the government steps up efforts to curb travel agencies from shelling out tours at rip-off prices, which only help to attract low-end travel groups – in turn affecting the quality of vacations in Taiwan for both locals and travelers from other nations. Local businesses must understand that quality will always supersede quantity in the long run, and that making a fast buck at the expense of quality is not the way to go.

Not to stir up political correctness, but according to the Tourism Bureau, Japan was once Taiwan’s largest source of foreign tourists, but that market has declined from 38 percent to 15 percent last year. Meanwhile, Southeast Asian tourist numbers have also declined from 14 percent to 9 percent.

What all of this suggests is that the moment has come for businesses to take the time to consider with the new government on what is required to ensure the industry’s sustainability in a global context, and that to develop a better understanding its long term growth and stability requires as much political effort and attention at the domestic and international level.

To put into perspective, an over-reliance on tourists from China means the survival of Taiwan’s tourism industry is in Beijing’s hands.

There is no doubt that China is a potential source of tourists for any country in the world and there is no doubt that Taiwan has the potential to be a world-class tourist destination. However, attitude is the key to world-class service. The up and coming government under Tsai should therefore regulate local businesses to provide quality service to their customers and protect Taiwan’s image as the beautiful island.

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