Sun, Oct 08, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Tragedy mars Taiwan's image

Tragedy struck last Monday when a tour bus carrying 19 Chinese tourists from Liaoning Province and a Taiwanese tour guide plunged off a mountain road into a vineyard in Nantou County, leaving six people dead and 15 others injured.

An investigation into the event appears to indicate several problems, beyond a mere traffic accident. The government and tourism industry cannot deal with these issues, even with a limited number of Chinese tourists allowed into Taiwan. So how can they pretend that they are prepared to allow greater numbers of Chinese tourists into the country?

Investigators believe that the unlicensed bus driver lost control when he was speeding along a shortcut in the mountain to save time. According to this line of thinking, the bus driver had to rush because of a tight itinerary -- a round-the-island tour in four days. But isn't the travel agency that hired an unlicensed driver at fault for negligence? Isn't the government also at fault for its lack of oversight?

On the day of the accident, the group had gone from Kaohsiung to Alishan (阿里山) and then Sun Moon Lake, and were making their way back to Taipei City that night. An argument between the tour guide and the passengers over souvenir shopping in Alishan required police intervention to solve. Is this a travel agency's idea of hospitality?

These badly packaged tours are the result of cutthroat competition over the meager number of tourists who wander into Taiwan. Charging only US$30 per person per day, travel agencies try to earn their profits by charging extra for additional options and cutting corners. They also often pressure tourists to purchase goods that will earn the travel agencies a commission, leading to mutual distrust between the tourists and the tour operators. No wonder so few people want to come back, or recommend Taiwan to their friends.

Similar problems have occurred with Taiwanese tour groups in China, which has also resulted in disputes and accidents. Even after hearing about these incidents, Taiwanese tour operators have demonstrated that they are little different from their Chinese counterparts. This can only hurt Taiwan and serves no useful purpose.

Taiwan has long sought to boost tourism revenue, and Chinese tourists especially could benefit by getting a firsthand lesson in Taiwan's qualities -- its economic development, relatively diverse culture, respect for human rights and the rule of law.

However, if the domestic tourism industry chooses to focus on short-term gain and emulate its unscrupulous counterpart across the Taiwan Strait -- and if the government lets it get away with such nefarious practices -- this will hurt Taiwan's international image.

The Mainland Affairs Council and the Tourist Bureau cannot sit idly by and let this happen. The government must put a stop to the slapdash practices of the travel industry, and work to set up a quality assurance system to bolster Taiwan's image as the "Beautiful Island" of Portuguese lore.

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