Can Taiwan's reopened tourism sector bring it back to life?

Taipei: Without plans to entice visitors for longer or more personal stays, Taiwan, which nearly three years ago lost a growing international travel sector to the coronavirus pandemic, is on course to miss its 2024 tourism revival target, according to a global tourism association.

By 2024, Taiwan wants to increase the number of visitors to its pre-pandemic level of about 10 million per year, according to a statement by the Ministry of Transport and Communications in October.

In October, border entry restrictions were lifted, and on 10 December Taiwan will lift restrictions on the number of arrivals allowed each week.

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Airlines need time to rebuild their routes, and money-conscious tourists are making new demands after considering their travel options for two years, according to Hiro Liao, vice president of Skal International East Asia and president of Skal International Taipei. Huh. The 90-year-old tourism organization has 13,000 members spread across nearly 100 countries.

To be honest, I think 2024 is a bit optimistic," Liao said. The government should "consider reconsidering the metrics as a parameter."

According to Liao, young travelers are becoming more frugal with their money, especially due to increased airline prices, and they are demanding experiences that traditional tour operators rarely provide. He claimed that more people are now aware of how travel affects the environment.

According to Liao, Taiwan's tourism industry should target visitors who plan to stay for more than a few days so that they spend more money and aid in the recovery of the dollar value of the industry. He also said that some visitors already want a "deeper" understanding of Taiwan.

"Everyone is looking for a unique experience rather than grazing a cow," he said after a change of heart during the pandemic's chill on international travel.

Overcrowding increases the risk of corona virus infection. Is that really how many visitors Taiwan gets, or how much tourism can benefit Taiwan's economy?
Liao commented.

Prior to the closure of its borders in March 2020, Taiwan had developed a reputation for cheap food, convenient public transportation and an abundance of out-of-the-way towns with historical sites.

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According to Liao, tourist interest has been fueled by Taiwan's strained relations with mainland China and frequent mentions in the international media of world demand for semiconductor chips. "Taiwan's visibility has skyrocketed unexpectedly," he said.

There are approximately 3,400 hotels, 2,800 travel agencies and 9,500 tour guides on the island. Many people survived the pandemic thanks to government assistance and domestic travel. Since the borders were reopened in October, more people have arrived than in any other month this year, reaching 92,500.

Liao said Taipei, Kaohsiung, Taiwan's largest port city, and Taichung, the country's administrative center, are already working to "promote more places that are off the beaten track." According to him this tactic is "sustainable" because it disperses the crowd.

According to Liao, the customized small-group tour was well received at the Taiwan International Travel Fair in early November.
Some tourists no longer use travel agencies and plan their trips using Google Maps instead. According to Liao, operators now need to "rethink the business model".

 He suggested that they could come up with creative suggestions like arranging food and refreshments in the open-air tour buses. In October, Taiwan's Ministry of Transport informed the cabinet that it would work towards its 2024 goal by creating sample itineraries and providing tourism advice with topics such as ecology, cycling and railroads.

By improving round-the-island bike routes, the ministry's tourism bureau announced in September that it would promote bicycle tourism by 2024.

Airlines need time to "reboot" and hotels in Taiwan are still not getting enough staff to handle any significant influx of visitors, Liao said, delaying any return to pre-pandemic tourism.

He suggested that Taiwan's central government consider relaxing immigration laws to allow more foreigners to work in the hospitality industry. According to Liao, the current issue is finding the necessary manpower.

According to civil aviation experts, many airlines will postpone a return to pre-pandemic levels of service until Taiwan fully lifts arrival restrictions and shows no signs of doing so.

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Due to increase in passenger demand, rising fuel prices, and western year-end holidays, air fares have increased over the past month, further frustrating travelers.

Since the airlines have been losing money for more than 36 months, Liao speculates that they would like to recover their losses as soon as possible.

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