The Ministry of Transportation and Communications this week broached the idea of charging admission fees to popular scenic spots to cover rising maintenance and infrastructure costs. Boosting tourism numbers has been a key goal of the current administration and its predecessors, but Minister of Transportation and Communications Yeh Kuang-shih (葉匡時) said that scenic areas have seen an influx of Chinese tourists, whose visits to these areas are, in effect, being subsidized by taxpayers. He also said that more ways of paying for investment in tourism-related infrastructure need to be found, because the Tourism Development Fund could not do it all.
The Executive Yuan set up the fund in 2009 to provide for central and local government investment to help revive the tourism industry (and economy) as part of a four-year plan, with 60 percent of the money coming from airport service charges and 40 percent from the treasury.
At the time the Tourism Bureau, which is part of the ministry, said the NT$30 billion (US$890 million in 2009) fund would create 400,000 jobs and attract NT$200 billion in private-sector investment, while allocating NT$18.7 billion for creating more tourist attractions, NT$2 billion to boost industry competitiveness and NT$9.3 billion to “increase tourism value added.”
Yet now the bureau says it will implement a pricing scheme to raise funds for scenic areas under its management. No details have been released so far.
However, before the bureau or the ministry start talking about admission fees, more public discussion is needed about the nation’s tourism policies. A unified, inter-agency approach is required so that tourists, whether domestic or foreign, do not face a barrage of charges to see the sights, while ensuring there is money to develop and protect Taiwan’s natural beauty.
The Tourism Bureau is in charge of 13 national scenic areas, none of which charge an entry free, including the Alishan, Sun Moon Lake, East Rift Valley and Penghu areas. Also free of charge are the nation’s eight national parks, including Yangmingshan, Taroko and Kinmen, which are under the remit of the Ministry of Interior’s Construction and Planning Agency.
However, the 18 National Forest Recreation Areas, which are run by the Forestry Bureau, an agency of the Council of Agriculture, charge admission ranging from NT$65 to NT$150 for an adult ticket on weekdays to NT$200 for an adult on weekends.
So while there is no charge to enter Kenting National Park, you have to pay to enter the Kenting National Forest Recreation Area inside the park. Visitors wanting to go to Alishan to see the sun rise over Yushan must pay a fee to enter the Alishan National Scenic Area, yet they can visit nearby Yushan National Park for free.
Charging people to enter forest recreation areas, which have limited access routes, is easy, but setting admission fees for a national scenic area is problematic. The East Coast National Scenic Area stretches for 170km, with many entry points. At what point would an admission fee be imposed?
Should the Tourism Bureau follow the Forestry Bureau’s example by setting different prices for adult, children’s and concessionary tickets or does the government want to follow the lead of Thailand and China, and charge different fees for locals and foreign visitors?
What about a system of multi-day or annual passes that would allow entry to a combination of national scenic areas, parks and forest recreation areas?
Should there be visitor quotas imposed on certain areas to preserve the environment?
These are just a few of the questions that need to be answered.
Top officials and bureaucrats talk about building a tourism environment focused on quality as well as quantity. They should begin by crafting a comprehensive plan that ensures accessibility to, and the protection of, Taiwan’s natural attractions for Taiwanese and visitors alike, both now and in the future.