In the eyes of international visitors, Taiwan is not known for its infrastructure, but rather its hospitality, adaptability and cultural diversity.
Indeed, many foreign visitors might be disappointed when they first arrive at Taoyuan International Airport and drive along the highway to downtown Taipei. Even people from under-developed Chinese provinces, for instance, would be unimpressed with the landscape of the greater Taipei area, as the lack of many skyscrapers or modern buildings fails to match the image in their minds or what they can find in big Chinese cities like Beijing or Shanghai.
It is only if visitors stay for a while that they begin to appreciate the friendliness of local people and Taiwan’s unique culture. However, this should not be an excuse for the government or the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, which have long failed in their responsibilities to improve the aesthetics of the nation’s cities and the quality of service at Taoyuan airport. After all, Taoyuan airport is the principal gateway to this country and provides the first impression of Taiwan to both tourists and businesspeople.
Finally, after recent scandals have embarrassed Taoyuan airport’s administration, the ministry has come under pressure to overhaul the airport, and on Tuesday vowed to implement radical policies to lift the airport’s international ranking — currently at 27th — to one of the world’s top 10 within the next three years.
That will be a tall order, but it shows just how ambitious Taiwan can be.
The ministry appears to be on the right track, as it has brought experienced travelers from the private sector, such as hotelier Stanley Yen (嚴長壽) and gourmet Lucille Han (韓良露), into its focus group.
They represent the voice of airport passengers, and will likely place a greater emphasis on the quality of services, such as food, than the facilities. Delicacies sold at the airport are an attraction for passengers that might prompt return visits, which would be a great boost to the airport’s overall traffic.
However, that will not be enough if Taoyuan airport aims to raise its standards and compete with the airport that has been ranked the world’s best, Incheon International Airport in South Korea.
International expertise needs to be brought in, because often it is not about whether we can provide exceptional services, but about whether the airport administration is willing to change its mindset.
For example, it would take no effort at all for Taoyuan airport to learn from Naha Airport in Japan, where administration officials show a lot more courtesy by taking every possible measure to respect the privacy of passengers.
Security officials at Naha Airport use a partition board to shield off the next passenger in the line when they have to go through a passenger’s luggage.
How much could several acrylic partition boards cost the administration? Regardless of the cost, it would be worth it.
It has never been a question of how, but rather a question of whether this country truly wants to lift its standards of service and living.
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