The real-estate and hotel businesses in Taichung might have collapsed in a recent downturn caused by the panic over SARS had the city's lantern festival celebrations not provided them with a windfall in February, Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (
"Business opportunities generated during the lantern festival nourished the real-estate and hotel sectors. If not for these extra earnings, the two sectors might have collapsed because of the SARS-induced downturn," Hu said at a city government meeting yesterday.
The lantern festival was held in Taichung for the first time this year. It had previously taken place only in Taipei, but the DPP government has arranged for the festival to be held in other cities around the country, first in Kaohsiung last year and then in Taichung.
The festival may have meant little to people in Taipei since it was only one of many celebrations held in the capital city throughout the year.
But for Taichung, it helped attract about 500,000 tourists and business opportunities of around NT$5 billion, a senior official with the city government said.
"Such a large cultural event is a great boost to the local economy. We hope to have more of this kind of thing in the future," the official said.
A real-estate businessman, who would only give his surname, Chen, said Hu might be overemphasizing the significance of the lantern festival but that he was nevertheless on the right track.
"Taichung people do aspire to see a national cultural event take place in their hometown. It will help enhance the image and reputation of the city in the eyes of the whole country," Chen said.
"It will positively influence people in the greater Taichung area and nearby counties and cities in their wish to shop and buy houses in the city," he said.
Taichung has the potential to become as prosperous as Taipei if people in neighboring counties and cities come to the city more often, he said.
The city used the festival not only to attract a large number of tourists and business opportunities but also to show off the city's development.
The festival was held on Kungyi Road, quite a way from the old city center but near a new downtown taking form in recent years.
It is also not far from the 7th rezoned district, which features the best housing design and highest living standards in the city. The district is home to two largest and newest department stores in greater Taichung.
During the festival, shuttle buses ran between the district and the venue of the lantern display, providing a continuous flow of sightseers between the two places.
The festival might indeed have been a success for the central Taiwan city, but the SARS outbreak has made it uncertain when the next crowd of tourists will come to this city.