Earlier this month, new data released by the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics revealed that last year, a total of 10.69 million tourists came to Taiwan — a record number and a 2.4 percent increase on the year before.
Some people might suspect that these figures have been massaged in some way, but according to my own observations as a volunteer at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, they do not overstate the situation as it appears on the ground.
While it is true that last year — and especially during the latter half of the year — the number of Chinese tour groups dropped off significantly, tour group numbers from other Asian countries are increasing daily. This includes people from Vietnam — who in the past have rarely traveled abroad — as well as an astonishing number from South Korea.
While volunteering in the main hall on New Year’s Day, I spoke with the leader of a South Korean tour group and a member of that country’s Chinese expat community. He told me that by the end of November last year, 800,000 South Korean tourists had already visited — 200,000 more than in 2015.
The guide’s assertion is borne out by the directorate’s statistics: 880,000 South Korean tourists traveled to Taiwan last year.
During this year’s Lantern Festival, I took over another volunteer’s afternoon shift. From 1:30pm to 3pm, I was on duty at the Ta-chung Gate entrance to the memorial hall on Xinyi Road. Within this period, I counted no less than 11 South Korean tour groups pass through the entrance, each group consisting of at least 20 people; I was taken aback.
It is also worth mentioning that while Chinese tour group numbers have fallen, there has been a significant increase in the number of independent tourists from China. What is more, they are generally of much better quality than those who come with groups.
Some of these independent tourists are traveling with friends and others are couples, but there are also families, sometimes with the extended family in tow, spanning several generations.
They are more polite and rarely shout and make a fuss, unlike tour group visitors. When asking for directions, they start by saying: “Excuse me,” rather than: “Hey,” and they always say thank you after receiving help, rather than simply turning and walking away.
Some independent Chinese travelers tell us that they really like Taiwan, remark upon the kindness of Taiwanese and say that they will come back again.
However, the happiest people of all must be the cleaners who work at the memorial hall. In the past, when Chinese tour groups flooded the hall, the floors of the lavatories would normally be covered in pools of urine. Their job is now much easier, and they are smiling once again.
The decline in the number of tour groups from China may in fact be a blessing in disguise. The quality of tourists has increased as independent travelers and tourists from other countries replace budget tour groups from China. What is there not to like about that?
Who are these people who, on an almost daily basis, issue exaggerated and alarmist statements in an attempt to frighten the public and talk down the nation? Regretfully, they are members of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Taiwan’s pro-China media.
These people would do well to read an article by the writer Liu Li-erh (劉黎兒) for her regular column Japan Now, published on Feb. 7 on the Chinese-language Web site Taiwan People News, entitled “Chinese tour groups are slowly disappearing from Japan.”
Japan is working to improve the quality of tourism in its country; we should endeavor to do the same here in Taiwan.
Wu Hua-chueh is a part-time university lecturer and resident of New Taipei City.
Translated by Edward Jones
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