Fri, Mar 17, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: On a holiday to nowhere

Trust the Australians to lure tourists back Down Under in their latest campaign with a tried-and-true formula of good food, superb weather, beautiful beaches, Aborigines and a bikini-clad Lolita inoffensively chirping "So where the bloody hell are you?"

Compared with the humdrum efforts that Taiwan comes up with targeting the international market, such splendid advertising can only lead those who want growth in Taiwanese tourism to shake their heads in despair.

The frustrating thing for those who want to see more visitors here is that Taiwan, for its size, has a lot to offer the intrepid tourist, or even those who prefer to dine at McDonald's every night.

Taroko Gorge (太魯閣), Alishan (阿里山), Kending (墾丁) -- all are deserving of their fame as drawcards despite mediocre facilities and environmental difficulties. But people who have not been to Taiwan will not have heard of even these places.

Many more people overseas have, however, heard of the Taipei 101 skyscraper. But relying on this daytime eyesore to pump up tourist numbers is ill-advised. It has a dildo-like ribbed concrete spire atop what appears to be a series of inverted plastic stools, it radiates juvenile wealth-accumulation symbolism, and it features a washed-out "jade" hue that apes the 1960s Western modernism so ably parodied by Jacques Tati in films like Mon Oncle and Playtime. Taipei 101 cannot compete on any aesthetic level with modern structures like the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Opera House. Build it and they will come, so it has been said, but Taipei 101 will not lure the overseas dollar because its only drawcard is that it's tall.

The "Taiwan, touch your heart" campaign of the last year has been a reasonable attempt to graft Taiwan's cultural attractions and welcoming population to its natural beauty, but as with so many official forays into the English language, the slogan doesn't quite make sense. Fittingly, overseas tourists are still forced to endure erratic or non-existent English and Japanese-language service after they arrive.

Recently, pan-blue camp legislators suggested that director Ang Lee (李安) make a film about the assassination attempt on the president and vice president. This was a stupid suggestion, unless the legislators are prepared to fund the film out of their pockets and give total creative control to Lee. But what cannot be disputed is that Lee and other Taiwanese filmmakers would be excellent choices for making a series of big-budget, wide-screen commercials for overseas markets. The idea is so obvious that it should be no surprise that the government's tourism authorities apparently haven't thought of it -- or, at least, are repelled by the amount of money that would be required.

One idea the Tourism Bureau has been toying with recently is inviting young Australians and New Zealanders to Taiwan to train as temporary tour guides for English speakers. This seems an interesting initiative -- until the fine print emerges. They would be paid a paltry NT$25,000 (US$770) per month. As if that weren't insult enough, regulations require them to have US$4,000 in savings, which even bureau officials have acknowledged is something of a disincentive.

If the Tourism Bureau wants to implement programs developing professional tourism services, then why does it treat -- and pay -- budding participants like rank amateurs?

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