Mon, Jul 29, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Penghu residents, experts question value of gambling

By Tsai Ting-I  /  STAFF REPORTER

Penghu has had trouble attracting tourists, raising calls for gambling to be legalized in the archipelago.

TAIPEI TIMES FILE PHOTO

There were only a few tourists from the main island of Taiwan perusing souvenirs on Saturday on Chungcheng Road, the busiest street in Penghu's capital of Makung.

Following the crash of a China Airlines plane near Penghu on May 25, the island county's tourist industry is going through its quietest summer in years.

According to statistics from the Association of Tourism in Penghu, visitors to the island were 63 percent lower in the weeks following the crash than at the same time last year.

But even at the best of times, despite Penghu's scenery and brisk sea breeze, tourism has never taken off as the county had hoped.

The recent bad luck for the islands has once again caused many to look to legalizing gambling as a way to attract tourists.

Many tourism experts and local residents, however, said that legalizing gambling is an irresponsible way to promote Penghu's tourism.

The islands, whose Chinese name is taken from the Portuguese name Pescadores, have a rich cultural heritage dating back to the Ming Dynasty.

Its 300km coastline offers many activities, including parasailing, jetskiing, sailing and snorkeling. It lures more than 200 species of migratory birds, making it an important spot for Asia's birdwatchers.

The central government, however, ignored these resources for much of the second half of the past century, seeing the islands in mainly political and military terms.

"Penghu was regarded as a military base until the early 1990s. As a result, the central government never wanted to develop the islands, which resulted in Penghu's shortages of water and electricity and, of course, a lot of five-star hotels," said Chiung Kuang-hui (莊光輝), an official of the Penghu County Government's tourism bureau.

"Also, with some 40,000 votes in the presidential election, who would care about us," Chiung said.

Budget

In response to pressure from Penghu residents two years ago, the central government agreed to give between NT$100 million and NT$200 million to the Penghu National Scenic Area Administration Office to promote the islands' tourism.

The budget, however, did little to develop Penghu or its tourist industry. No large-scale projects were completed and, despite numerous promotions, the plentiful tourism resources of Penghu failed to draw crowds.

"The money was spent on constructing new harbors based on election concerns, which resulted in the many unnecessary harbors in Penghu now," said an anti-gambling activist in Penghu, who only gave his surname, Lin.

According to Penghu County's Construction Bureau, there are now 67 harbors servicing Penghu's 97 villages.

"The quality of these harbors is poor, and Penghu's coastline was seriously damaged by their construction," he said.

Aside from questionable construction projects, the local government's promotion campaigns have also been criticized as being carried out with little regard for standard marketing techniques.

To promote the island, the local government hosted swimming events, fireworks displays and parades of elaborately-decorated vehicles.

"These events can't distinguish Penghu's qualities at all," said Kao Chih-peng (高植澎), a DPP councilor from Penghu County and former Penghu County commissioner. "We even spent money on importing the fireworks and flowers from Taiwan."

Another controversial side-effect of the tourism drive is the construction of large, international-standard hotels, which will probably be the setting for the casinos if the pro-gambling lobby has its way.

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