Tue, Dec 30, 2008 - Page 1 News List

COMMUNITY COMPASS: Taipei City’s English services lack luster

SAY WHAT? Some blame limited budgets for the failure of the city to make itself fully English-friendly. Others claim the practice of farming out is the real problem

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

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As Taiwan’s capital and an international metropolis, Taipei City provides better English-language service than most places in Taiwan and enhancing the bilingual environment has been a major goal of the Taipei City Government.

Efforts to improve the city’s English environment over the past several years included synchronizing English street names and road signs and relaunching its official English Web site (english.taipei.gov.tw) in 2003 under then-mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to provide information to the expatriate community in Taipei.

A closer look at recent activities held to promote tourism, however, found a lack of English-language information for the foreign community.

The latest event organized earlier this month by Taipei City’s Commerce Office, for example, promoted the food service industry in the city and launched a Web site containing basic information on more than 500 restaurants, including addresses, directions and maps — all in Chinese.

“The Web site is a huge database of great restaurants in the city and allows locals and foreigners to obtain information on delicious food in the city in a convenient way,” office director Liu Chia-chun (劉佳均) said.

The office said that the database was in Chinese and English. However, no English-language information can be found on the site (www.foodintaipei.com.tw). Asked about the lack of English-language information, Chiang Yi-hua (江宜樺), a division chief at the office, said the office was not responsible for putting together the content of the Web site.

“I am not clear about the English version of the Web site. We contracted out the Web site and you should therefore ask the company about it,” she told the Taipei Times.

The contractor, Corporate Synergy Development Center, said the English-language information would soon be available.

Another event held by the city government in September also targeting local and foreign tourists, the Taipei Hotel Festival, was another example of the city’s ignoriong of foreign visitors and expatriates. The festival, organized by Taipei City’s Department of Information and Tourism, sought to attract local and foreign tourists to Taipei and encourage them to spend the nights at hotels. Various promotional activities, including discounts of as much as 55 percent at more than 30 hotels, were offered during the monthlong event. However, no English versions of the promotional brochures or coupon booklets were offered.

Asked for comment, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City Councilor Chen Yu-mei (陳玉梅) criticized the department for its limited approach.

“How many Taipei City or Taipei County residents would go spend a night in a hotel in Taipei City? Targeting only the local market and ignoring foreign visitors is a total waste of money,” she said.

Huang Chiu-chuan (黃修全), a division chief at the department, acknowledged the department’s failure to address foreign visitors’ needs by providing English-language information, adding that the department would expand the scale of the festival next year and offer English information to foreigners.

“It’s true that we did not advertise the event to the foreign community [living] in Taiwan or foreign visitors. We mainly targeted local residents this year because of a limited budget,” he said.

Chen said the city government should not blame the budget. The department’s bad habit of contracting out activities to private companies, she said, was the reason behind the poorly designed events. She urged the city government to put greater effort into promoting the city to the foreign community by improving its English-language environment.

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