Tony and Maureen Wheeler, creators and publishers of the Lonely Planet guidebooks, which are known as “the backpacker’s bible,” attracted a lot of attention during their recent visit.
While the couple talked about the many experiences gained on their journeys, many people were more curious to find out what tourists find special about Taiwan.
The Tourism Bureau had hoped 5 million tourists would visit Taiwan last year, but statistics show that the total number was only 3.71 million — far short of the goal.
It is clear that the nation’s tourism policies are deficient. While many are proud of Taiwan’s rich cultural assets and natural beauty, the tourism industry is still stumbling; even when there is enthusiasm there is a sheer lack of ability.
Just what is the problem?
In drafting tourism policies, the most important questions that the government must ask are: Why do foreign tourists come to Taiwan? And why aren’t there more?
The biggest problem is that there has been an alienation of policy from effective tourism themes.
The bureau has promoted a number of high-profile “international” projects that have little connection to marketable Taiwanese culture or geography and which come across as random ideas — including a TV series starring boy band F4 aimed at the Japanese and organizing honeymoons for foreign newlyweds.
The bureau has also been incapable of making the connection between inbound tourism and important international or regional events.
Other countries in East and Southeast Asia have, for example, drawn up plans in tandem with the Beijing Olympics in the hope of attracting tourists who are already in Asia.
The bureau, however, did not come up with its “Tour Taiwan Years 2008-2009” campaign until last month. The slogan “See the Olympics in Beijing, come traveling in Taiwan” may have potential, but other elements of the campaign leave much to be desired.
The Wheelers said that travelers hope to have unique and personal experiences. That’s why the most important things travelers look for are the cultural activities and natural landscapes.
In the minds of tourists, even world-famous scenic spots have characteristics and a status that is unique to them as travelers. Through traveling, tourists hope to connect to the place they are in and create a new relationship with the world.
COME TO NAUGHT
Taiwan’s international status is unstable and its tourism attractions are not well publicized, so international travel agencies do not have the means to highlight what makes Taiwan special and worth visiting. Because of these problems, years of hard work on plans to increase tourism to the numbers Taiwan deserves have come to naught.
This alienation in tourism policy, the lack of a carefully prepared promotional campaigns, the lack of a grasp of what tourist highlights should be are the main problems the Tourism Bureau must face.
And this year there is the matter of capitalizing on the Beijing Olympics.
With Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asian countries preparing intelligently for the event — even to the extent of offering a place for athletes to train for the Olympics — the question must be asked: What is Taiwan doing?