Thu, Jan 23, 2020 - Page 13 News List

Tapping the Muslim tourism market

Although Taiwan has much to offer Muslim visitors, those who wish to pray in mosques and observe Islamic dietary laws are often out of luck

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

Muslim tourists from Singapore interact with public art in Kaohsiung.

Photo courtesy of Have Halal, Will Travel

Taiwan’s tourism industry, it’s fair to say, has pretty much conquered the Japanese market. Every year since 2014, Taiwan has been the no. 1 overseas destination for Japanese travelers. While Chinese tourists have the money and inclination to come in droves, they lack the freedom to go wherever they want. If Taiwan is to attract more visitors from nearby countries, Southeast Asia is thus an obvious region to focus on.

For decades, Southeast Asians with Chinese ancestry have been coming to Taiwan to study and do business. However, reaching beyond the Chinese diaspora is complicated by religion. Islam is the majority faith in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei — yet visitors to Taiwan who wish to pray in mosques and observe Islamic dietary laws are often out of luck.

Just nine of Taiwan’s 15,000-plus registered houses of religion are devoted to Islam. Outside of restaurants that are explicitly vegetarian, finding meals that don’t include some amount of pork or lard can be difficult.

Official efforts to tap into the huge Muslim market — almost a quarter of the world’s population — began in 2008, when the Tourism Bureau and the Taiwan Visitors Association (法人臺灣觀光協會) invited international Islamic tourism experts to visit Taiwan. The bureau recently established permanent offices in Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. In the first half of this, a new office in Dubai will promote Taiwan throughout the Middle East.

MORE HALAL NEEDED

In 2010, the bureau published a 104-page booklet titled Traveling in Taiwan for Muslims. An example of fine intentions but flawed execution, it mentions the availability of snake wine and snake meat at Taipei’s Huaxi Street Night Market, even though both are haram (forbidden for Muslims). It also introduces Yu Zhen Zhai (玉珍齋), a traditional bakery in Lukang which, as of the end of last year, had yet to obtain halal certification. These blunders don’t appear in the 2012 edition of the booklet.

A lack of halal food around major tourist spots is one of the biggest obstacles preventing more Muslims from coming to Taiwan, says Elaine Tee of Have Halal, Will Travel (HHWT), a Singapore-based travel and lifestyle platform for Muslims. She describes Taiwan as “a pretty new destination for the Muslim segment. It has lots of natural sights that can attract Muslims, coupled with lower costs compared to Japan and some other destinations.”

The HHWT team visited Taipei and Kaohsiung in 2018 at the invitation of Scoot, a budget airline.

“During our five-day trip, we visited sites like Jioufen, Ximending and Pier-2 Art Center,” Tee recalls. “We did a lot of research regarding Jioufen’s street food. In places like Houtong (猴硐) and Shifen (十分), there wasn’t any halal food, and we had to plan our meals around this fact. We wanted to try traditional Taiwanese breakfast but weren’t sure which places were Muslim-friendly, as many places serve pork.”

HHWT has worked with the Alishan (阿里山) and Tri-Mountain (參山) national scenic area administrations to promote those destinations.

“We definitely saw the effort they’ve made to educate homestays and restaurants to cater for the Muslim segment,” Tee says.

But potential visitors, she thinks, “are still concerned about the language barrier and getting around outside of Taipei. It’s also hard to get information on places like the Tri-Mountain area.”

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