Wed, Oct 01, 2008 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: The Tourism Bureau sits on its laurels

The past few months have been a major disappointment for the tourism industry, with a golden opportunity — the opening to China — failing to deliver. With many travel agencies complaining that they have yet to see any benefits from the increased quota for cross-strait tourism, it would seem that the impetus to bolster the tourism industry will have to come from elsewhere.

This week the Tourism Bureau made an overture to the Discovery Channel, inviting it to do another program on Taiwan — this time on next February’s lantern festival.

The bureau touted a one-hour program aired on the channel in the US this summer, a segment of which was devoted to Taiwan’s lantern festival celebrations. Officials are hoping to woo the producers back, promising that next year’s festivities — in particular the Taiwan Lantern Festival hosted by Ilan County — would be even more spectacular.

But the bureau’s praise, arguing that the short segment shown last year had given Taiwan “a spot on the world stage,” was, if anything, reflective of Taiwan’s all too unambitious efforts to advertise itself to potential travelers in other countries.

Watch CNN and you will see some very enticing commercials for South Korea, India, Malaysia, Singapore and China. Slogans like “Seoul: Soul of Asia” and “Malaysia, truly Asia” accompany images of the colorful traditions, culinary delicacies and beautiful scenery of these destinations. Rather than hoping the Discovery Channel would drop in to film the Pingsi Sky Lantern Festival again, why not be more ambitious in broadcasting images of this stunningly beautiful celebration to the world?

And by the world, we do not mean only China. Tourism officials would do well to focus more energy on other markets.

The government has hit a brick wall with China, where tight restrictions on which agencies can sell packages to Taiwan have made a mockery of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) prediction of Chinese hordes crowding the nation’s tourist spots on a daily basis.

The cross-strait weekend flights that began in July have proved more popular with commuting businesspeople than tourist groups — and then primarily with people wanting to fly in and out of Taipei.

But the Tourism Bureau has not given up, inviting representatives from dozens of Chinese travel agencies to tour the nation next month and organizing promotional events in several Chinese cities. At the heart of the disappointing numbers of Chinese visitors, however, are politics and Beijing’s lack of interest in reciprocation.

While Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) said last month that adding cross-strait flights would bring more Chinese, the fact is that some of the existing weekend routes have already been suspended because of a lack of passengers. No one in China, it seems, is interested in Kaohsiung.

In that context, doting on the Chinese market may not pay off for some time to come. An equally good place to seek new visitors would therefore be other Asian countries, where the government could promote Taiwan more vigorously.

A single appearance on the Discovery Channel does not constitute a “spot on the world stage” any more than the Lantern Festival represents all that Taiwan has to offer.

Ambitious results only come from ambitious efforts. After years of observing lazy bureaucrats doing the work of professional marketers and being oblivious to their failings, the depressing question that follows is if this situation can ever change.

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