Tue, Jul 13, 2004 - Page 11 News List

Tourism safe after storm: officials

A SAFE TRIP Nantou County tourism officials say up to 90 percent of tourist infrastructure was unaffected by Mindulle, and tourists and travellers have nothing to fear

By Evelyn Shih  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Leaders in the Nantou tourism industry and government officials asked people to have faith in the safety of Nantou's tourist areas yesterday, despite damage in the county from Tropical Storm Mindulle earlier this month.

Lin Guo-lung (林國隆), director of a tourist industry union in central Taiwan, said that roughly 90 percent of the "hardware," or facilities, in important tourist attractions remains unaffected.

While most roads in flooded areas in Nantou have been repaired, the average person outside of Nantou seems largely ignorant of these facts, Lin said at a press conference held yesterday at the Legislative Yuan.

"Even reporters arrive in the area with copious preparations, assuming the worst conditions, so the general public can't be expected to know any better," Lin said.

An official from the Tourism Bureau said the lack of consumer confidence has created a small crisis in tourism-supported counties such as Nantou.

"The severe damage shown in the media is limited to small regions of Nantou, not all of Nantou County," Tseng Kuo-chi (曾國基), director of the bureau's domestic tourism division, told reporters at the same event.

Other than the hard-hit Jen-ai and Hsin-yi townships, Nantou's recovery from the aftermath of Mindulle was almost complete, Tseng said. Popular locations like Puli and Ching-jing are perfectly equipped to accommodate large numbers of tourists, he added.

Tseng called the coming weekends the "golden season for domestic tourism," and said that normal market forces would take care of the growing tourist industry in Nantou if the public could overcome unfounded fears.

"If business does not start picking up in two weeks, the government may have to step in," he said.

Democratice Progressive Party Legislator Tang Huo-sheng (湯火聖) pointed out that the Mindulle was not as destructive as past natural disasters in terms of deaths and injuries. He characterized the sudden downturn in tourism as an "entirely psychological phenomenon."

"One of the only income sources available to the people of Nantou is about to be broken off," Lin said, at the local tourist industry union, citing the disastrous effects of high room return rates over the past week.

A total of 78 Nantou hotels saw all their reservations between July 1 to July 3 cancelled, and many others fared little better, Lin said.

There has not been a significant rebound in reservations.

"Everyone's just starting to get back on their feet from the destruction of the 921 Earthquake," Lin Su-jen (林素貞), director of the Puli Tourism Industry Promotion Association (埔里觀光產業促進會) said.

Still shaky, the Nantou economy would be badly hurt by a disappointing tourist season, she said.

Many small hotel owners, such as the Hsiao Ban Tien Development Association (小半天發展促進協會) director Ong Jin-hui (翁錦輝), are under pressure to pay back government loans that they took out after the earthquake.

"We began developing tourism-related businesses with the help of the government because 921 made agriculture in our area impossible," Ong said.

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