With Palace Museum and food culture, Taiwan’s tourism continues to flourish

At a time when many industries in Taiwan have been hit hard by the worldwide economic slump, Taiwan’s tourism industry has continued to experience double-digit growth and is projected to do even better in the coming year. In 2009, there were 4.4 million foreign tourists visiting Taiwan, a 14.3 percent growth over the number in 2008, ranking No.1 in the Asia-Pacific region.

Currently, Chinese tourists are the largest group of visitors to Taiwan. The steady increase in tourism from China has meant that over 2.01 million Chinese visitors have come to Taiwan, bringing in foreign exchange earnings of close to US$2.10 billion. This is welcome income as Taiwan’s industrial and agriculture sectors decline. In fact, one of the six new industries the government is promoting is tourism since the industry has become an important part of the service sector, accounting for 73 percent of Taiwan’s GDP.

Though promoting Taiwan as a travel destination might prove tricky according to Liu Wen-yi, the general manager of Lion Travel, Taiwan’s largest travel agency. In talking to Taiwan Business Topics, Liu said, “Taiwan is a good place to visit, but you have to work hard to promote your special characteristics to attract foreign tourists.” Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau understands that the island is not known for being a tropical paradise such as Hawaii or Bali (Indonesia), nor can it rival metropolitan cities like Tokyo, Shanghai, or New York, which are shopping meccas better known for their city life. Still, the industry is growing tremendously and will continue to do so with the diversified market channels utilized by the Tourism Bureau.

New market strategy

According to Sylvia Yu-hsiang Yu, the director of Tourism Division of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in San Francisco, the Tourism Bureau has intensified and diversified its campaigns through video broadcasts, print ads and television programs. They have also placed keyword banner ads on the world’s top search engines and portals such as Google, MSN and Yahoo.

In addition, Yu’s headquarters has utilized social media platforms by launching contests such as “The Best Trip in the World – Taiwan Explorers Wanted” where international teams come up with their best itineraries for trips around Taiwan. “The event’s official website was viewed more than 2.4 million times, and videos watched over 160,000 times,” she said. The selected team’s videos and blogs were also reposted on other social networks and blogs, with close to 3,500 websites making a reference or further repostings.

Moreover, by collaborating with Taiwan’s airline companies and hotels, the tourism industry is enticing travelers with offers to “Stop over in Taiwan, and for $1 USD more, stay at a 5-star hotel” program. Besides appealing to a traveler’s wallet, the government hopes to grow the industry through better branding of the country’s special attractions.

Taiwan’s special attractions

Taiwan is highlighting attractions that other destinations cannot match, such as the National Palace Museum, gourmet food, the unspoiled beauty of Taitung, and a bike friendly destination, to name a few unique selling points of the island.

Taiwan’s National Palace Museum is ranked as one of the four best museums in the world, along with the Louvre, the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The museum has 700,000 items in its collection, which represents the world largest collection of Chinese artifacts. Due to the museum’s size, only 15,000 pieces can be displayed at any given time, so the museum rotates its displays every three months. Given the size of the collection, it would take a dozen years to display the museum’s entire collection.  

The museum is one of Taiwan’s top attractions, but with increased Chinese visitors to the museum, the buildings are often crowded. However, the museum has begun to consider expansion feasibility plans, which might triple the size of the current exhibition space in five years, according to Ovid Tzeng, the cabinet minister without portfolio in charge of tourism promotion.

Exceptional food, cycling and unspoiled Taitung

Taiwan’s food culture is another important selling point of the island. With the recent success of films like Monga and Au Reviour Taipei, which included plenty of scenes of Taipei’s night markets and the thriving food culture, these films have attracted a new breed of tourist to Taiwan – those focused on exploring Taiwanese culinary specialties.

The Tourism Bureau hopes to expand Taiwanese gourmet foods by attracting foreign businesses to invest in the local food industry. This would include inviting famous chefs to Taiwan to give cooking demonstrations, increasing the visibility of Taiwan’s cuisine.

Also, as an island and in keeping with the popularity of a greener way of traveling, Taiwan is promoting “Let’s Bike Taiwan” as another way to experience Taiwan’s magnificent scenery and interact with local people.  At a recent “Let’s Bike Taiwan” event, 500 cyclists from Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Korea, throughout Europe and the United States, cycled five routes around Taiwan. Besides being a popular leisure activity, Taiwan is also home to many bicycle manufacturers, including Giant Bicycles, the largest quality bicycle manufacturer in the world.

In 2009, when Typhoon Morakot slammed into the island, it hit eastern Taiwan especially hard. Taitung County was particularly badly affected. While the region’s relatively undeveloped state might put off some industries, this is not the case for tourism. According to Global View monthly, Stanley Yen, the former president of the Ritz Landis Hotel in Taipei, one of the top hotels in Taiwan, saw the potential attraction of Taitung and began recruiting his friends to lend their expertise toward publicizing this last piece of relatively untouched Taiwan.  

Tour Taiwan and experience the centennial

Next year, the Republic of China will celebrate its 100th birthday with planned activities for both domestic and foreign visitors. One of the programs aims to promote the Top 100 Travel Routes in Taiwan. It will introduce the island’s rich ecosystems and diverse scenery to visitors through showcasing the unique local culture. To make it easier for travelers to plan a trip to Taiwan, the Tourism Bureau will offer “Tour Taiwan and Experience the Centennial” with information in several languages (Chinese, English and Japanese). The information pack includes electronic maps and extensive information about Taiwan’s scenic spots, transportation, local specialties and leisure activities.

Taiwan’s tourism will receive an additional boost when the government increases the daily quota of Chinese tourists to 4,000 per day, with independent Chinese tourists allowed to visit Taiwan by the end of June 2011. Since the lifting of the ban on Chinese tourism in July 2008, the average daily number of visitors from China has steadily increased. In 2009, visitors from China averaged 1,661 per day, but, by the first half of 2010, it jumped to 3,440 per day. 

There may be many places in the world that offer magnificent sights and unparallel food, but Taiwan offers you both, with the bonus of being both friendly and safe. It is a place where you can experience a different culture, way of life and language, yet the warmth and the hospitality of the Taiwanese people will make you feel welcome and instantly at home. According to Yu, this is one of the reasons that National Geographic Traveler lists Taiwan as “Asia’s best-kept secret.” Prepare for the secret to be out in 2011.

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