Thursday, April 7, 2016

Tourist Magnet, Part 2 (Taiwan Review)

Compared to cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong, hotels in Taipei face greater competition from non-hotel alternatives, including motels and rooms in private homes booked through, says Joseph Lin, managing director at CBRE Taiwan, a branch of the largest real-estate consultancy company in the world. 

According to CBRE Taiwan, the number of hotel rooms in Taipei grew just over 12 percent in 2015 to reach 34,057. CBRE expects that total to hit 41,039 in 2018. The Tourism Bureau recorded 188,000 hotel rooms throughout Taiwan in 2015, up from 132,000 in 2007.

“In the short term, overall supply will exceed demand, but there’s still a lack of real five-star luxury hotels,” says Lin. “The success of high-end places is really down to the service and experience they can provide, and in these respects Taipei is still catching up,” he adds, and points out that, because obtaining land for construction is difficult in Taipei, most new hotels offering fewer than 100 guestrooms are in fact refitted office buildings.
Lin has also noticed that for new hotels, a greater percentage of the initial investment is going into F&B (food and beverage) and MICE facilities. “Hotels don’t want to put all their eggs in the same basket. There’s a realization that high occupancy rates aren’t easy to achieve, and that tourist numbers may not grow much more, so owners wish to diversify revenue streams,” he says.

“We’re seeing quite a few new hotels in Taipei push back their grand openings,” says Lin. The recent economic slowdown is not the only reason for this, he explains. “Because there’s been such rapid growth, there’s a shortage of experienced workers. Some hotels have decided to extend their soft-opening periods so they’ve more time to train up staff.”

Conscious that cross-strait relations may impact the number of visitors coming from the Chinese mainland, Lin does not want to predict what kind of growth Taiwan’s tourism industry will see over the next year or two. He urges Taiwan’s government to work hard developing other markets which have shown steady growth, such as South Korea and the US, rather than rely on China.

According to Tourism Bureau statistics, the sector’s full-time workforce grew from 100,000 in 2007 to 190,000 last year. 

 “Young people are witnessing the growth of the tourism industry. This has created many job opportunities, so more and more young people are becoming interested in the sector,” comments Yeh Chien-mu, chairman of the Department of International Tourism Management at Tamkang University’s Lanyang Campus.

“To support the growth of tourism, the industry needs people who have the right hard and soft skills. If it’s to recruit these people, the industry has to offer a good working environment, including competitive salaries,” Yeh says.

In the opinion of one travel reporter, the wave of tourists has brought complications as well as profits. “Because mainland Chinese visit certain places – including Alishan, Sun Moon Lake [pictured above], and Yeliu – in such numbers, some Taiwanese now shun those destinations,” says Joyuda Chung, who writes for

Rather than big-ticket investments like the Shanchuan Bridge, a 262m-long pedestrian sightseeing bridge in a mountainous part of Pingtung County in south Taiwan, Chung would prefer more emphasis on long-term planning, and the promotion of local cultures. “I think the profits would be more sustainable,” she says. Chung also feels accommodation in Taiwan is expensive relative to local salaries. “A consequence of this is that camping is becoming more popular, but I think the government needs to better regulate campsites to avoid environmental damage, especially around natural hot springs.”

According to travel agent Teresa Kuo, high accommodation costs and heavy traffic on holidays put many Taiwanese off exploring their own country. Many of these people instead use low-cost carriers (LCCs) to explore Asia, she adds. The proliferation of LCCs flying to and from Taiwan has been a boon for both Taiwanese and foreigners wishing to visit the country.

Among positive trends detected by Chung is the cohort of young people who, having turned their backs on mainstream careers and big-city lifestyles, now run tourism businesses in rural areas. 

“Some of these people are attracted by the lower cost of living, or have returned home to take care of their parents. These micro-entrepreneurs can provide in-depth cultural and ecological experiences in their communities. Some offer niche activities such as cycling or tea-themed tours,” she says. “These Taiwanese have strong roots in local culture, yet seem to be creating a kind of hipsterish aesthetic that’s a major draw for Japanese, Korean and Southeast Asian travelers.”

Chung sees the appearance of “tourism factories” as another step in the right direction. These places are manufacturing facilities where the public can learn how everyday products are made, and perhaps try their hand at creating such items. Tourism factories pull in busloads of domestic tourists, yet seldom appear on international visitors’ itineraries.

Both Chung and Kuo single out for praise the Tourism Bureau-backed Taiwan Tourist Shuttle, a network of bus routes which links hundreds of cultural and scenic attractions in every part of the country. Chung describes the network as “convenient for both Taiwanese and foreign travelers.”

Public transportation is key to government initiatives which seek to mitigate the environmental impact of mass sightseeing. Electric-powered buses shuttle tourists around Alishan National Forest Recreation Area and Sun Moon Lake, and link Taroko Gorge with Xincheng Railway Station. For certain attractions, visitor numbers have been capped. The authorities set a limit of 6,000 people per day for the February 2016 cherry-blossom season at Wuling Farm, a high-altitude scenic area in central Taiwan.  

Chung, Lin and Yeh express concern about the dependence of Taiwan’s tourism industry on the mainland Chinese market, and support efforts to entice other demographics. According to Yeh, Taiwan’s advantages include “night markets, delicious food, religious tourism, and natural scenery… We should preserve these because they contribute a lot to the industry. At the same time, Taiwan should figure out new products to enrich the range of options.” 

He thinks Taiwan is particularly suitable for “slow travel,” which emphasizes seeing fewer places, but enjoying each in greater depth. Taiwan certainly has depth: hospitable people, a culture which interweaves Chinese, Japanese, Austronesian and Western influences, biodiversity hotspots, and landscapes which inspired the name Ilha Formosa, “Beautiful Island." 

Part 1 of this article can be read here.

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