Monday, November 21, 2005

Tourism Fantasies: 1.25 million youth travelers

Taiwan News reports on more tourism fantasies from the government here:

The ambitious program aims to bring in at least 1.25 million young travelers into Taiwan next year, said Steven Kuo, deputy director general of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau.

"By 2008, we hope to raise that number to 1.5 million visitors," Kuo told a tourism conference held on the sidelines of the Taipei International Travel Fair. The student and youth travel market - falsely perceived as the least lucrative of all tourism segments - refers to overseas travelers between the ages of 16 and 25

Brimming with ideas....

"In some European countries, tourists who carry such cards get discounts on railroad passes. We can perhaps produce one using the current EZ Pass," said the official.

A tourist-friendly transportation system is also a must, said Kuo, adding that information and call centers catering to overseas tourists should be set up.

An English-friendly environment is also needed. Citing an example, the official said foreigners are often confused with Taiwan's street signs and maps since the central and local governments are using a mix of systems in romanizing Chinese characters.

"We are using different systems in Taiwan, and we need to address this soon," Kuo said.


I think the misconception here is that people don't come here because the system is not well-organized or suchlike. Wrong. People go to countries like Thailand and Vietnam where English standards are not great and spellings vary and it is a pain to get around. Organization is less important -- backpackers are used to solving "how to get there from here" problems; indeed, that challenge is one of the most interesting of youth travel.

No, the real issue is that Taiwan has so little to offer to travelers. I had a blast in Sri Lanka last year. Why? Good beaches. Ruins. Elephants. Spices. Great food. National parks. Colonial history. Taiwan is probably inferior to any other Asian destination in terms of value for tourist dollar spent, partly because it is so expensive, and partly because there is so little to draw tourists here. Most of what is here is aimed at the local tourist market. The government needs to start thinking about how it can exploit Taiwan's mountain and sea resources, develop its cultural and historical resources, and so forth, and market them to the outside world. Let's face it: nobody is going to get on a 12 hour plane ride to see the Miaoli Mask Festival and eat Pingtung-style Pig's Feet, and pay thousands of US dollars to do it. If I am a tourist in New Zealand or France or Canada, for that same money I can spend months in India, and beat Taiwan in nearly every category.

The competition is tough. Upgrade, or wither away.

8 comments:

Michael Chang said...

I backpacked through Eastern Europe shortly after the communist failed. Getting around was difficult. Few people spoke English; manus and schedules were in local languages only, and a lot of people were unfriendly. Well, I still had a blast. Prague, Krakow, Budapest were simply wondrous cities to see however difficult it is to get there.
I have never been to India. Everybody I know been there developed some kind of diarrhea. One guy made Taj mahal a bit chunky, and another guy contracted a rare type of parasite in India that UCSF actively sought after his stool sample. They both returned.
So it’s really about destinations. When will they learn?

David said...

I think you're spot on about the reasons why people don't visit Taiwan. You might also know that Taiwan has introduced a working holiday visa scheme for young people from Australia and New Zealand. It is an interesting scheme and you can read more about it here, but I don't know what the take up rate of the visas has been.

Wayne E. Yang said...

Hi, Michael,

I have to agree with you that expense has a lot to do with it (which is why some policymakers want to find a way to make it easier for backpackers to travel through the country), but I heartily disagree that there aren't places to visit in Taiwan. The country is ruggedly beautiful; there are spots that easily rival destinations elsewhere, certainly places in Indonesia and Thailand that were backpacker havens long before they went upscale. I think part of the problem is that Taiwan was long marketed as "China," and we all know comparing the CKS Memorial and Grand Hotel to the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and Great Wall was ludicrous. Why would you go to Chinese Taiwan if you could go to China itself? So I support the fact that policymakers are now correctly emphasizing places like Hualien/Taroko Gorge, Kenting and the natural springs throughout the island. There has also been a move, albeit slow, to celebrate local cultures. (While the cultural village in Meinong is a bit kitschy, the Hakka museum there I think is wonderful.)

Why do so many Taiwanese leave the island every weekend to vacation? New Yorkers have the Hamptons, Bostonians have Cape Cod and the Baltimore/DC crowd has Chesapeake Bay. While many Taiwanese businessmen continue to flock to China to build their hotels and resorts, a few do rightly see the potential within Taiwan itself.

W

mark said...

Taroko Gorge is one of the most spectacular and beautiful places in the world. I once rode a motorcycle through it, in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt and no helmet, when I was young and verystupid. But it was amazing. Taiwan still hasn't figured out what it is, and doesn't know what to promote. The tallest mountains east of the Himalayas is a start, but there are some models they could use - Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, etc. They could clean up the beaches, tidy up the waterfronts at Tamshui, etc etc.

Greg said...

Good points!!!
When my mother and father were getting ready to visit Taiwan last February their friends, upon hearing that they were coming here, responded with a ?---"Tai-Why?"
In my opinion, there are 2 immediate issues that need to be addressed. First, the physical environment is a mess. The garbage masks all beauty. Second, beaches, or lack of. Beaches need to be built, kept clean, and maybe most important, access to the
beaches (I presume on the east coast)
needs to be imporoved.
What ever is done---this is going to be no small endeavor.

Mark said...

Great point, Micheal. Why would anybody come to Taiwan for some beaches, a little hiking and overpriced shopping malls when they could go to China, see the great wall, the forbidden palace, the real "Xanadu" where Marco Polo and Kublai Khan met, and a whole bunch of other stuff for a third of the price?

My mother came to Taiwan to visit me this spring and she was sorely disappointed. It was nothing like the tourism material said it was. She kept saying stuff like, "Nobody's wearing Chinese clothes," "The architecture is just like home but crummier," and "the malls are just like Chicago but more expensive."

The thing she said upon leaving was the most depressing of all: she said that it seemed like the local culture had been swallowed alive by American culture, and that all that was left was a really tacky "me-too" imitation. Admittedly, she spent 2 years in Ethiopia doing infectious disease research, and she's visited a number of countries with unique cultures, but still... it was a bit of a shock for me to see someone I know so well react like that.

The thing she said upon leaving was the most depressing of all: she said that it seemed like the local culture had been swallowed alive by American culture, and that all that was left was a really tacky "me-too" immitation. Admittedly, she spent 2 years in Ethiopia doing infectious disease research, and she's visited a number of countries with unique cultures, but still... it was a bit of a shock for me to see someone I know so well react like that.

The thing I really don't get is this: why is the Taiwanese government so crazy about tourism? I'm sure there are other pursuits that would get a better return on their investment.

Michael Turton said...

The country is ruggedly beautiful; there are spots that easily rival destinations elsewhere, certainly places in Indonesia and Thailand that were backpacker havens long before they went upscale.

Certainly there are some great places in the mountains, but for the dollar you spend, you can have a much better mountain time in Nepal or Peru or India at the moment. I think if those resources are developed with the western tourist in mind, perhaps they can attract a small following. But if you are a tourist and want to trek, and you have a choice between Taiwan and every other place in Asia....well. That's the problem the government has to overcome. I just don't see it happening. The government just doesn't think that way.....

I like the local cultural move -- but it seems to be aimed at locals. Taiwan is beautiful but not beautiful enough. It is ethnic but not ethnic enough. It was colonized but not long enough ago....Aarrgh! What content do we provide for tourists?

Michael

Mark said...

Well, I think the whole point is that unless people visit your country because it's rich and powerful (like France, the US or Japan), what people want in places they visit is to see something really different from what they see at home. Different clothes, different architecture, different movies in the theaters, etc... Taiwan had that 40 years ago; China, India and Peru still have that now.

I think the only hope is to become much much much more "ethnic" as Micheal put it. But the problem is, how can the government make people less crazed about copying all things western, and thus more "ethnic"?

As for Hong Kong, I think it is an attraction only because it's so much of a center for expat businessmen. If Taiwan wanted to emulate that, it would have to make some changes. Letting foreigners get debit cards, letting them get post-paid cell phone plans, not deporting people with valid work-visas for doing volunteer work on the side, and not letting companies automatically demand guarantors for any foreigners who want to use their services would be a good start.