Tue, May 21, 2019 - Page 13 News List

The potential of Taiwan’s rainbow tourism

After the historic legalization of same-sex marriage, Taiwan is poised to reap the benefits of the LGBT tourism economy, if it can summon the will and imagination

By Davina Tham  /  Staff reporter

James Yang earlier this month stands at the cash register of GinGin Store, where he serves as spokesperson.

Photo: Davina Tham, Taipei Times

Pew Yawei (俞雅娓) says Taiwan’s friendliness toward LGBT people is a “magical vibe” and a big part of the reason why the Singaporean has visited Taipei twice in as many months.

During a visit earlier this month, Pew bought magazines and music albums at GinGin Store, a shop specializing in LGBT lifestyle products, and relaxed with the cats at LGBT-friendly H*ours Cafe a few doors down.

“When you’re naturally comfortable, you are drawn to the beauty of the city,” says Pew, who identifies as lesbian.

As the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, Taiwan stands to gain from the signaling effect this will have on LGBT consumers around the world. Even as entrepreneurs here remain cautiously optimistic of growth driven by LGBT tourism, they are confident that Taiwan’s vibrant, homegrown LGBT culture has much to offer visitors. Just don’t expect the government to help.

A BRANDING OPPORTUNITY

According to a 2017 report on LGBT tourism by the UN World Tourism Organization, marriage equality legislation has become “shorthand for... acceptance of ethnic and sexual minority groups as a whole” and “sends a powerful brand image of tolerance, respect, progress and open-mindedness, resulting in an increase in LGBT visitors, among others.”

Legalizing marriage equality “absolutely” consolidates the image of Taiwan as an LGBT-friendly destination, says Darien Chen (陳宏昌), regional marketing manager at Atlantis Events, a US company that produces gay and lesbian cruise and resort vacations.

GinGin Store spokesperson James Yang (楊平靖) agrees that taking action to legalize marriage equality resolves ambiguity about Taiwan’s openness toward sexual minorities.

“We have always said that we are number one in Asia in terms of LGBT friendliness, but anyone can call themselves friendly,” Yang says.

Taiwan is already enjoying some of these promotional benefits. When the Legislative Yuan approved marriage equality on May 17, the decision generated positive media coverage on a scale that an expensive public relations campaign would struggle to reproduce. The news made headlines around the world and prompted extensive social media mentions, with the hashtag “Taiwan” trending worldwide on Twitter that day.

The Tourism Bureau has reached out to the LGBT market in the past, supporting Taiwan’s parade float at New York’s pride parade last year and inviting European and North American LGBT tourism industry players and media to visit Taiwan in 2012. In 2016, director-general Chou Yung-hui (周永暉) told the media that the Tourism Bureau would continue to cultivate the LGBT market.

Yet although the achievement of marriage equality could be a natural launch pad for more LGBT-focused marketing, the Tourism Bureau appears hesitant to seize the opportunity.

When asked ahead of the May 17 legislative session whether marriage equality could untap the economic potential of LGBT tourism, the bureau told the Taipei Times that “across the board, media and industry players whom we have invited in the past have expressed admiration for Taiwan’s local customs, tourist attractions and the openness of public opinion.”

“As for the future development of LGBT issues, we call for positive and open minds to treat hospitably every traveler who comes to Taiwan,” it continued.

The Tourism Bureau also downplayed past outreach to the LGBT market, subsuming its efforts under a general approach to welcome visitors “regardless of race, skin color and sexual orientation.”

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