Sun, Mar 25, 2018 - Page 6 News List

EDITORIAL: Bringing the world to Taiwan

The Tourism Bureau and Sony Taiwan premiered a film collaboration in Taipei on Wednesday, a short film aimed at attracting international tourists to the east coast of Taiwan.

Eastern Taiwan has been hit hard by both a decline in Chinese tourists and damage from the Feb. 6 earthquake, and the government has introduced a number of efforts to revitalize the area’s economy. The film highlights the east coast’s natural scenery, Aboriginal cultures and the Taiwan International Balloon Festival that takes place annually in Taitung County.

Tourism and hotel operators in February also began promoting the east coast as a place to experience Aboriginal culture, particularly by encouraging people to try traditional Aboriginal food made from millet and roselle flowers, or listen to community elders explain how to make animal traps.

Aboriginal cultures and natural scenery are the nation’s tourism strengths, and these attractions are what will bring visitors to the country, if developed and promoted properly.

Tourists flock to Hong Kong and Singapore to shop and catch glimpses of their colonial past, to Japan and China to experience their millennia-old architecture and the blending of tradition and modernity, and to Southeast Asia for the beaches.

While Taiwan has smatterings of these things too, there is simply nothing remarkable enough about the nation’s shopping, beaches or architecture to attract tourists from halfway around the world. What Taiwan does have is a sub-tropical coastline with beautiful vistas that have been left untouched by the past half-century of rapid economic development.

The promotion of ecotourism is not new to Taiwan — tour operators have been promoting cycling and interaction with nature for years. The East Coast National Scenic Area Administration in July 2015 invited visitors to escort land crabs across roads on Green Island (綠島); the Taipei-based environmental group Chi Sing Eco-conservation Foundation in 2011 held a short-film contest to promote travel to relatively unknown areas with pristine environments that exemplified the nation’s flora and fauna; and 2002 was declared the “Year of Ecotourism in Taiwan,” with legislators encouraging sustainable tourism and eco-tours for visitors.

However, many such initiatives have been smaller ventures aimed largely at local tourists and have failed to effect change in the industry as a whole.

Scenic settings such as Taroko Gorge (太魯閣峽谷), the East Rift Valley (花東縱谷), Mukumugi Valley (慕谷慕魚) and the Suhua Highway (part of Highway No. 9) are some of the nation’s best-kept secrets, and should be at the front of official tourism materials.

Getting to these places should be as simple as walking up to a counter at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport and getting on a bus or into a private car. Arranging accommodation should also be possible in English at the airport, or online, and options should be available for travelers with different budgets.

One budget traveler wrote in a 2013 blog that their room in Hualien had decor from the 1970s and was uncomfortable. They were probably unaware of the many modern, artsy bed-and-breakfast options available — something that could have been avoided if an English-language list was accessible somewhere.

Finally, Aboriginal communities should not be treated like exhibitions, and tours to communities should be developed in cooperation with locals. A 2014 tour to an Amis community resulted in controversy when the visitors arrived during the Ilisin ritual — a sacred event held by Amis people during the summer to celebrate the harvest and pay homage to their ancestors — but failed to respect the community’s traditions and taboos.

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