A little over a month ago, when Janice Lai (賴瑟珍) was appointed director-general of the Tourism Bureau by Minister of Transportation and Commun-ications Tsai Duei (蔡堆), the nation was just recovering from a major setback in the tourism industry: Five tourists from China were killed in a traffic accident when traveling near Alishan in October.
Lai's challenge, however, was not restricted to salvaging the damaged reputation of Taiwan's tourism industry. She was also tasked with attaining a goal of 5.2 million foreign tourists visiting Taiwan by 2009.
Lai seems to face the task with admirable determination.
"As I said during my inauguration ceremony, my attitude is not to allow the goal set by the Executive Yuan to become merely a statement or a slogan," Lai said in an interview with the Taipei Times, adding that she preferred to "work more and talk less."
A native of Changhua County, Lai began working in the bureau when she was still a college junior. As a young office clerk, she had only a vague understanding of tourism issues.
Fortunately, she had the opportunity to work under several experienced senior officials who were willing to train and advise her.
"I still remember the title of my first report in the bureau: "Practical Ways to Develop the Tourism Industry in Taiwan," she said. "I had absolutely no idea what to write."
Over the years, Lai accumulated extensive knowledge about tourism through in-depth research and hands-on experience, and her passion for a career in the tourism industry grew.
In her words, tourism is an industry that "follows the trend of the age" and "allows one to learn and meet people of all trades."
Having worked at the bureau for more than 30 years, Lai has participated in several key projects.
She was asked to evaluate the feasibility of the Taipei International Convention Center, which was officially opened in 1990.
Her work on the project, she said, was greatly inspired by a trip to the convention center in Berlin.
There she saw how a convention center could help attract millions of tourists from around the world to a city that had been ravaged by political problems.
The first Taipei Lantern Festival was another example of Lai's many accomplishments.
She said the bureau organized the first event without any assistance from the private sector.
"My colleagues and I were very moved when we saw a crowd of hundreds and thousands of people [at the event]," she said, "I still get goose bumps whenever I think about it."
Lai outlined her preliminary plans for initiatives such as the implementation of a mechanism to evaluate the performance of travel agencies and the expansion of tour routes to certain major tourist attractions to include lesser known scenic areas nearby.
Bureau's statistics show that 3.37 million foreign tourists visited Taiwan last year, a 14.5 percent growth from 2004. Analysis shows that most came from Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, China and North America.
In particular, the number of tourists visiting Taiwan from China via a third country has shown significant growth. More than 90,000 Chinese tourists visited Taiwan from January to last month, twice as many as last year.
As the leader of the nation's highest authority in travel affairs, Lai bears a lot of responsibility.
Not only was she charged with raising the number of foreign tourists, but she will also be negotiating with Beijing over the management of Chinese tourists once they are permitted to enter the country directly.
Lai admitted that her bureau's remit is by no means an easy one, given that it has a limited budget.
Nonetheless, Lai believes that identifying the right path will allow the bureau to achieve its goals.
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