Tue, Sep 10, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Expats play key role in boosting Taiwan’s tourism

Locally-based, foreign-born tourism professionals and entrepreneurs are convinced of Taiwan’s appeal — even if official efforts to promote it are often flat-footed

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

“It’s difficult to communicate this to agencies who mostly deal with customers whose priority is to save money,” Robbins says. “Such regulations are hampering the development of specialty tourism in Taiwan. It can be very frustrating and sometimes lonely to promote specialty tourism to Taiwan, but it’s important that those of us who see the potential continue to fight the good fight. Hopefully, the government and the tourism industry will wake up and join in one day.”

Robbins also serves as an examiner for Taiwanese English-language guides finishing their training, and asserts that while some speak excellent English, “a shockingly high proportion don’t.”

She’s heard similar gripes from some of her clients: “I’m told local guides tend to be long winded but not answer the questions put to them. Clients often tell me that they like that I don’t talk very much and that I answer questions very directly.”

Robbins sees a cultural dimension in this: “I understand that Westerners are very OK with asking questions if they want to know more.”

Californian Ryan Hevern, who set up Taiwan Adventure Outings with Dustin Craft of North Carolina in early 2018, “strongly believes that bringing a Western mentality to tourism in the country — by having more foreigners as licensed tour guides or operating tours — would increase inbound travel from the Americas, Europe, and Australia. It would also help shift Taiwan towards a more responsible model of tourism focusing on conservation, culture and adventure.”

Hevern thinks some Taiwanese-run tour operators have a protectionist mindset, which he dismisses as “unnecessary… our clients wouldn’t travel with them, and theirs wouldn’t travel with us. Among businesses run by expats, there’s competition, but also a common desire to help build tourism that’s right for Taiwan. We connect adventurers to small-scale initiatives which promote the culture, environment and local communities. The island deserves sustainable tourism, and we’re here to help.”

Hevern isn’t alone in seeing the drop-off in Chinese visitors as an opportunity.

“We can shift the way Taiwan is marketed, and shine a spotlight on the adventure paradise it is,” he says. “However, a big issue in Taiwan is that it’s nearly impossible for travel-related small enterprises to start up. You need something like NT$6 million in capital to establish a travel agency, because the rules assume a travel business must take care of flights, visas, accommodation, tours and so on. This is an archaic template.”

GOING LOCAL

Pemberton, who accumulated years of business experience in other fields before setting up Life of Taiwan in 2011, has successfully negotiated the sector’s red tape.

“We’re a member of the Taiwan Visitors Association and have been welcomed and supported into the community. Taiwan has a wonderfully free market which has always impressed and endeared me,” he says.

The co-founder of another expatriate-run tour company, who wishes to remain anonymous, says legal issues haven’t seriously complicated the running of his business.

“But I think if we were to ever have a major problem, being foreigners would mean we’d get extra attention from the authorities and the media,” he says. “That spurs us on to make sure that we do everything 100 percent right and 100 percent to the best of our ability.”

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