Approximately 8km north of the Miramar Resort Village, the daily, springtime coach-jams at Water Running Up, a geographical-oddity-turned-tourist-trap, are evidence that Taiwan is seeing growing numbers of visitors. The influx has been fueled in part by a relaxation on travel restrictions on visitors from China and government figures prove that tourism is booming: In 2007, 3.7 million tourists visited the nation. By 2010, that number had risen to 4.3 million and in 2011 it hit the 6 million mark.
Jessica Wu (吳金曄), 31, a member of Taitung’s Tourism Department — and Taiwan’s only female hot-air balloon pilot — remains convinced that increased numbers of visitors could spell good times for Taitung County. Wu, who is part of the drive to put the county on the tourism map, last year helped steer the second hugely successful Taitung Hot Air Balloon Festival.
“We attracted 880,000 people last year which brought in an additional NT$200 million to Taitung’s economy.”
However, Wu concedes that there is a balancing act between staging events which will bring greater numbers of tourists, while the region’s infrastructure strains under the weight. “Our priority is to now bolster transport, but we have a limited budget for that.”
Da Yuang (大苑, real name 黃苑蓉), a 30-year-old graduate student and a project leader with the Taiwan Environmental Information Association (TEIA, 台灣環境資訊協會), says all facets of the construction process have to be taken into consideration.
“If we really want more tourists to come to Taitung then we must ask if Taitung is ready for them. The basic infrastructure is not adequate. For example, garbage collection, water treatment [and] traffic management,” she says as she drinks black tea in a cafe.
Yuang, who is part of the Anti, Anti, Anti (反反反行動聯盟) movement, a collective of environmental groups opposed to the hotel, was first alerted to the environmental impact of the complex while volunteering on a coral reef-checking project in Taitung. She joined the group to “help build connections with Taipei.”
“A lot of Anti, Anti, Anti [members] are concerned that Dulan Point will be developed next if the Miramar Hotel finally goes ahead and opens its doors. It’s the first domino,” says Yuang. Dulan (都蘭) Point is where artist Chen Ming-tsai (陳明才) leaped to his death in 2003 to protest tourism-orientated development in the region and which local Amis tribes regard as a sacred site.
Chang Yi-chuan (張益銓), a 26-year-old architect, agrees with Yuang. Chang’s family is from Taitung and the university graduate is now volunteering in the county while reconnecting with his ancestral roots.
“I think Taitung, for example Dulan, has a strong lifestyle and I think this is the main value of this place,” he says. “If the hotel goes ahead, and with it the business model it represents, it will destroy this value.”
THREAT TO ECOSYSTEMS?
In addition to the threat of unbridled development, Yuang says the hotel threatens fragile marine systems.
“They just built directly on the sand which created lots of waste on the beach,” she said.
Since 2009, the TEIA has been studying the health of the bay’s eco-systems with the organization’s director Sun Hsiu-ju (孫秀如) stating: “Many coral reefs have been contaminated with dirt and sand.” The group also alleges that heavy-metal contaminants have been released as a result of the burning of construction waste.