Formosa International Hotels Group (FIH, 晶華酒店集團) yesterday called on the government to assign more importance to the tourism industry, saying it could develop into a growth driver like the technology sector.
Leisure and hospitality operators are like exporters in that they make money from serving foreigners and can play a significant role in supporting GDP growth if the industry grows big enough, FIH chairman Steve Pan (潘思亮) told a news conference.
Pan, who is also a standing board member of the Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce (工商協進會), said a turning point is taking shape as Taiwan benefits from the US-China trade dispute.
“Taiwan may see the return of a golden age if the government would be more open and flexible in dealing with investment and labor policies,” Pan said.
Pan said that top-ranking business travelers — senior executive officers and university principals — had been dwindling for the past three decades as local firms moved operations to China and other emerging markets to save costs.
However, that trend has somewhat reversed in the past two years, as local firms shifted partial production home, while global technology titans expanded research and development facilities in Taiwan, Pan said.
In addition, top-tier universities are asked to take sides and Taiwan appears a favored partner as the trade dispute evolves into a technology competition, he said.
The changes are favorable for Taiwan if policymakers can ensure healthy infrastructure, including sufficient labor supply, Pan said, adding that FIH has had difficulty finding housekeeping and cleaning staff.
Taiwan should learn from Japan, where authorities have allowed the service sector leeway in hiring foreign laborers to meet a rapid increase in foreign tourists that reached 30 million last year, he said.
“Opening markets and deregulation do not require funding in the pursuit of growth,” Pan said, adding that the government is on the right track in shifting its focus to pro-growth measures rather than equitable redistribution of sources.
The local market might see more new hotels in the next four to five years, despite a supply glut, Pan said.
FIH’s core businesses, including its flagship property Regent Taipei, would continue to grow this year, thanks to its leadership position and successful business model, he said.
Regent Taipei managing director Simon Wu (吳偉正) said the facility aims for an occupancy rate of 85 percent this year, up from 81 percent last year.
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