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Taiwan must set sights on high-end tourism market
Publication Date : 20-02-2013
Around 2.6 million Chinese people visited Taiwan last year, including just over 220,000 travellers on self-guided tours, according to figures from the Tourism Bureau.
While tourism officials must be pleased about the healthy growth of tourism in Taiwan, any further influx of visitors might not be so healthy for the country's main attractions — Sun Moon Lake, Alishan National Scenic Area, Taroko National Park and the National Palace Museum.
There have been complaints about visitors chatting loudly and eating snacks inside the country's top museum, where you now have to line up for some time in order to get in. The landmark Taipei 101 and many other scenic spots are also overcrowded with only a few travel agents, hotels, tour bus companies and restaurants benefiting from the brisk business.
If Taiwan wants to further increase its quota for mainland tourists travelling in groups to 5,000 from 4,000 a day and double the daily intake of individual tourists to 2,000 this year, Tourism authorities must address first the rampant price competition between tour operators that is bringing the quality of prepaid tour packages into a vicious downward circle. On the mid- and long-term, this endless pursuit of mass tourism is poised to bring profitless volume.
Even though the government set the minimum amount local travel agencies charge Chinese agencies per visitor at US$60 per day, some agents have already lowered that amount to about US$24, and in some cases they gave up on charging anything. As a result, Taiwanese tour operators have turned to other ways to make money such as squeezing in as many stops as possible into Chinese tour groups' itineraries.
By forcing Chinese visitors to spend their money at designated stores that provide hefty commissions, travel agencies have been focusing mainly on shopping trips to make a profit. That's wrong.
To the contrary, Taiwan should focus on attracting high-value visitors and developing a more profitable tourism industry, rather than just pursuing growth in visitor numbers. Building unique and outstanding tourism products and services is also the key to competitiveness as most Asian countries are preparing for launch of the Asean Free Trade Area (AFTA) in 2015.
A viable alternative for Taiwan rests in environmentally sustainable and culturally responsible tourism products. Our country features one of the most desired landscapes in the world, with unique native flora and fauna and an indigenous culture that resonates with visitors from around the globe. Instead of apologising for the cost involved in high-end travel, Taiwan should use South Africa as an example and focus on its unrivalled experiences for which people will be willing to pay.
One of the biggest myths about the luxury market in Asia is that Chinese people are always on the lookout for a cheap deal. Contemporary Chinese travellers now look for more than an off-the-rack package tour. They want to experience the unique quality of a town and its people. They're equally willing to spend big bucks on travelling around the world and are more discerning when choosing their travel destination. In other words, Chinese tourists, like any other high-end travellers, want to ensure they're getting an exceptional holiday at the right price, but they also want value-added services such as tailor-made itineraries, personal consultants and someone to call in an emergency.
While we further expand the Free Independent Traveller (FIT) programme, Tourism authorities must still consider reducing the number of tour groups entering the country. Otherwise, we might eventually fail to upgrade Taiwan's tourism sector.