Sun, Dec 31, 2017 - Page 6 News List

EDITORIAL: Reinvigorating Taiwan’s hot springs

On Saturday last week, authorities placed models of robots from the Transformers movie franchise in Taitung County’s Beinan Township (卑南) near Jhiben Creek (知本溪) to attract tourists to the hot springs.

Jhiben’s hot springs have been an important and historic part of the township’s economy, but hot springs are no longer a rarity in Taiwan, Beinan Mayor Hsu Wen-hsien (許文獻) said.

The robots have been popular with visitors, but it is unlikely that they will have any meaningful effect on the development of local hot springs.

Hsu is right that hot springs are growing more ubiquitous in the nation, but the problem is not with their number — it is with their style of operation.

Taiwan’s hot springs industry has been moving away from its roots since its resurgence in the late 1990s, and the result has been an abundance of missed opportunities.

Taipei’s Beitou District (北投) has been a hot springs destination since 1893 and was expanded under Japanese rule. During that time, the area’s hot springs were largely communal bathing facilities, the best example being the Beitou Public Bathhouse (today’s Beitou Hot Spring Museum) built by the Japanese from 1911 to 1913.

After the arrival of the Republic of China government in 1945, hot springs lost much of their popularity and it was not until 1999 that the government sought to revitalize the industry. From then, the focus was largely on expensive hotels and resorts, and today, Millennium Hot Spring stands out as the only well-known public bathhouse in Beitou.

The next-best alternative is to visit a private bath at a resort where prices average NT$2,000 per hour, and guests who would like to spend the night at a resort in Beitou should expect to pay two to three times that on average.

It is quite different in Japan’s Beppu City in Kyushu. Beppu has 2,909 hot spring vents, innumerable public bathing facilities within walking distance of the station, and a variety of different types of baths, including a famous sand bath and foot bath on the city’s beach.

Communal facilities there are well-developed and clean. The average entrance fee is ¥100 (US$0.89) with no time limit, while private facilities cost an average of ¥1,000 an hour. Visitors can stay at a Japanese-style inn (known as a ryokan) for about ¥8,000. These inns offer traditional multi-course meals called kaiseki made with local seasonal ingredients, with flowers and leaves adorning the food. Guests can choose to sleep on a futon or a tatami for a true Japanese experience.

Hot springs define Beppu’s culture and atmosphere, and the city’s locals often make weekly trips to the bathhouses. Many of the elderly there even bathe daily at public facilities.

Beppu’s only real drawback for the aspiring hot springs bather is that it has no international airport. Getting there means first flying to Oita or Osaka, and then transferring by bus, train or ferry. Despite this, several hundred thousand tourists make the trip to the city annually. An average of 17 percent of those visitors come from Taiwan.

By contrast, many visitors are not even aware of Taiwan’s hot springs. An article written by Lyndsay Hemphill for Web site Business Insider on June 9, 2015, does not list hot springs among the top 10 reasons to visit Taiwan — half of the entries on the list are food-related, the other half are scenic spots.

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