Buffeted by the formidable Coastal Mountain Range (海岸山脈), Taiwan’s isolated east coast has managed to avoid the recent growth of mass tourism seen across much of the rest of the country. Highway 9 (台九線) — often drenched by powerful typhoons — remains the area’s only major road, north or south, and rail passengers have to endure train journeys on limited services from Taipei that can take up to eight hours. There are even fewer planes. This is a place reserved for the determined.
However, plans are now well underway to develop Taitung’s largely untouched 231km-long coastline and at this very moment bulldozers are ploughing their way through heavily-forested hillsides as Highway 9 is widened south to Taitung from neighboring Pingtung.
As development gathers pace a debate has followed. At the center of this increasingly heated row sits the controversial Miramar Resort Village. Located in Taitung’s Shanyuan Bay (杉原灣), approximately 10km north of Taitung City, the 80-room giant, which remains unopened amid a bitter legal battle, is where the war over the future of this undeveloped coastal region is being fought.
KEEP IT PRISTINE
The Anti, Anti, Anti (反反反行動聯盟) movement — an amalgamation of environmental groups dedicated to removing the hotel — has become a cause celebre since 2011, with several prominent personalities, including The Chairman vocalist A-chi (阿吉) and popular indie-pop singer Deserts Chang (張懸), lending their support.
Five years ago 33-year-old shop-keeper and anti-hotel activist Chiu Chui-ta (邱垂達) moved to the sleepy town of Dulan (都蘭) — now the hideaway of choice for many Taiwanese artists and host to the famous Siki Workshop (Siki木雕工作室) and the arts venue Moonlight Inn (月光小棧). Chiu says the seven-story hotel should be pulled down.
“If the hotel opens it will be the beginning of the destruction of Taitung and if Taitung goes in this direction, [that’s the end of the] region. I want to keep this place intact … I didn’t come to Taitung to make money, I came here for the culture, the environment, the people and the lifestyle.”
BOOST IN TOURISM
At the resort’s temporary offices — nestled in rocks overlooking the coral-rich, sandy bay, and just a stone’s throw from the hotel itself — 45-year-old Jeffrey Chiu (邱聰得), the man charged with spearheading the development of the resort’s leisure facilities should it finally open, sips a cappuccino in the afternoon heat. Chiu says that the region desperately needs tourism and the financial stimulus it would bring.
“I am a Taitung local … in Taitung [we] are so lucky that [Miramar Hotel’s parent company Durban Group] invested here because Taitung really needs a five-star hotel. It really needs touristic development for the local economy … Tourism is the only way,” Chiu says.
Shanyuan Bay — once visible from the nearby road — hosts an impressive, open stretch of yellow sand beach and the sea teems with coral. While there is no questioning the presence of the NT1.1 billion (US$37 million) hotel — the structure commands a beachside position so great it casts a late afternoon shadow over the entire bay — the merits of its construction continues to fuel acrimonious debate in Taitung.
The 2004 Build-Operate-Transfer (BOD) hotel project signed between the Taitung County Government and the Miramar Resort Hotel Company is to see the touristic complex returned to public hands 50 years after the agreement was inked. BOD is a model of government infrastructure development, borrowed in part from systems first trialed in the UK, that allows private firms to build and operate key public facilities for an agreed period of time.