After the Executive Yuan issued its first 5 million “night market coupons” in the middle of last month, it issued another 5 million, optimistically believing that the 10 million coupons would help increase the number of tourists by as much as 3 million.
Since the incentive has just been rolled out, one can see a lot of coupons changing hands in night markets. However, it is difficult to say whether these visitors would have gone there anyway, or whether they decided to go because they have coupons.
All there is at the moment is a projection by the Ministry of Economic Affairs that the coupons have the potential to create total spending of NT$1.7 billion (US$55.1 million).
Where did the ministry get those figures? What is the correlation between the 10 million coupons and an increase of 3 million visitors? Is it really believable that a person would make the trip to a night market just because they have been given a coupon worth NT$50?
The policy states that when people traveling to another city or county check into a hotel, they are to receive up to four coupons per room, a total value of NT$200. Would this be enough to change the minds of Taiwanese who were originally planning to travel overseas?
In addition, the policy states that a coupon can only be used in one of the three areas of northern, central and southern Taiwan where the coupon was handed out, but it does not require tourists to use such coupons near where they are staying or only use them themselves.
That is, they could use the coupons in their own areas after returning home, or give them to friends before returning home.
How much can they help night markets by spending the coupons at markets near their homes needs to be evaluated.
Domestic tourism in Taiwan is mostly based on tour groups traveling during weekdays, which often visit free sites on day trips. As the policy does not target such groups, how will it encourage large tour groups that visit night markets?
Do individual tourists actually go night-market shopping? Will the NT$50 coupons entice them to go shopping and increase their spending? If they really go shopping because of the coupons, would it not make more sense for the government to distribute night market coupons to every Taiwanese?
President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration has repeatedly offered short-term cash incentives to remedy the losses caused by the falling number of Chinese tourists. Are such incentives effective? Or are they just a waste of money?
Does the government know why many Taiwanese do not like to travel domestically, and why they would rather travel overseas?
Boosting the local tourism industry does not lie in subsidies. By issuing hotel vouchers and night market coupons, the government has failed to grasp the real problems with domestic travel.
Some key problems limiting domestic travel include traffic jams on weekends and holidays, tourist spots lacking substantial attractions, a lack of variety between night markets, expensive accommodation and the inability of most office workers to travel on weekdays.
To provide a stimulus for domestic tourism, the government should try to solve these problems, promote weekday travel, as well as large group tours and two to three-day local tours or even round-the-island trips.
It can even require businesses to conduct company trips domestically, providing tax deductions for them. They might be much more effective than issuing night market coupons to boost tourism.
Lu Chien-chi is an associate professor at Huafan University’s department of philosophy.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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