In the beachside gardens backing onto the hotel’s temporary offices the team of public relations officers who have flown down from the resort’s Taipei base for the interview explain that the hotel group has always followed the rules.
“In December last year they had an important meeting at the Taitung government where we obtained their approval, so now we must let time tell because we made promises in our plans … and we have gained the support of many local people,” explains Heather Lin (林函潔).
Lin is also dismissive of the protesters and says they are largely from out of town and are simply following their own agenda. “You can see most of the protesters are from Taipei … but in Taipei they can’t see that we haven’t polluted the ocean.”
Tiger Ho (何金坤), the resort’s general manager, agrees and says the hotel has strived to reach the highest standards in terms of protecting the local environment.
“The coast is really special, and because there are no such large-scale hotels we want to invest more. We can solve the various issues raised by the protesters … The Miramar Hotel has invested a lot in environmental protection and we want our reputation to be based on the standard we set.”
Ho says that water filtration systems at the hotel are world class. He adds that hotel guests will be allowed to view the water cleaning operation for themselves.
Turning his attention to the increasingly well-known beachside town of Kenting in Pingtung County, Ho says times have changed.
“We are not modeling ourselves on Kenting … Kenting has been a big success but there are also issues there like pollution … We want to live in harmony with the beach because if you pollute it then people won’t come here.”
Fellow Miramar Hotel employee Jeffrey Chiu (邱聰得) chips in: “Kenting built the majority of its hotels 20 years ago and at that time Taiwan did not really have rules in place about how to best protect the ocean or the beach. But the Miramar Resort is a new hotel, so the government had to be really careful about that and to take those laws seriously.”
Once a small town located on Taiwan’s southernmost tip, Kenting has continued to witness tremendous growth. Aided in part by the ease of transport, the tourism hot spot is often cited as the end result of open-ended development. A 186-room hotel is situated slap in the middle of Kenting National Park and there are dozens more hotel complexes along the coastline.
Robert Storey, the veteran travel writer who penned the first Lonely Planet guide to Taiwan in 1985, has seen many changes to the region.
“The obvious fact is that these high-rise buildings are real eyesores, and constructing too many of them may well drive off the tourists who always have the option of going somewhere else,” said the 32-year resident of Taiwan — 16 of them spent in Taitung.
“The second reason these mega-hotels may not be so great for the economy is that they are hurting the currently booming business of home-stays which have sprung up all over Taiwan,” Storey said.
Storey, who lives near Luye and who describes himself as a “mountain person,” says that the risk of hotels spreading out across Taitung is very real.
“This issue affects many other places far removed from the east coast beaches. High-rise hotels are popping up in many scenic areas, not just on the coast.”