Sun, Jan 25, 2009 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE :Taiwanese tourism industry trails behind Southeast Asia

OVER-DEVELOPMENT A number of tourists and travel agents say some of Taiwan旧 most scenic areas are marred by large concrete hotels that don急 blend into scenery

By Emmanuelle Tzeng  /  CNA, WITH STAFF WRITER

Just two months after massive protests shut down Thailand’s international airport in Bangkok and stranded thousands of tourists, long lines of international visitors, with many arriving from faraway places such as Europe, the US and the Middle East, crowd the Suvarnabhumi Airport.

They come for Thailand’s sun, beaches, culture and perhaps most importantly the warmth of its people and its tourist-friendly environment.

Despite the economic downturn and political turmoil, “what is strong in Thailand remains strong and even stronger ... The strongest [point] are Thai people themselves,” said Tharit Charungvat, director-general of the Department of Information.

As Taiwan tries to boost the number of tourists who visit, nearby Thailand can serve as a role model that has succeeded in building a strong tourism industry, and one that is able to attract tourists for repeat visits, Taiwan’s representative to the Southeast Asian country said.

In an interview, Roy Wu (烏元彥) praised the friendly service in Thailand, from which he said Taiwan’s service industry could learn a lot.

He said that during the closure of Suvarnabhumi Airport amid protests against the government in late November, the Thai authority sent artists to the airport to perform for foreign tourists trapped there.

Moreover, vendors near the airport offered them free beverages and food.

“The Thai government and its people are very attentive [to foreign visitors],” Wu said.

‘TOUR TAIWAN YEAR’

In contrast, few Western tourists are normally seen at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei.

In the hope of boosting tourism as a key industry, especially as manufacturing companies have moved to developing countries such as China and Vietnam in recent years, Taiwan’s government has designated last year and this year as “Tour Taiwan Years.”

It is offering a series of incentives, including free subway passes, tickets to hot spring resorts and chances to win large amounts of money to lure visitors to Taiwan.

Last year, Taiwan received 3.85 million visitors, an increase of 3 percent compared to 2007, among whom 46.2 percent were tourists and 22.9 percent were business travelers, the Tourism Bureau said.

The bureau hopes the number of tourists will reach at least 4 million this year.

At the same time, one of Asia’s top tourist destinations — Thailand — estimated optimistically that their country received approximately the same number of tourists last year as in 2007, around 14.5 million, despite the economic downturn.

Taiwan and Thailand’s tourism resources and strategies, however, are different.

While Thailand is blessed with many white sand beaches and a tropical climate, Taiwan’s coasts are mostly rocky and the weather is not as warm.

Taiwan, however, has rich natural beauty — including one of the tallest mountain in northeast Asia — Yushan — scenic coastal areas and rich local culture.

The challenges Taiwan faces, however, are in providing easy access to its tourism resources. Many of the mountains, for instance, are not easily accessible for individual climbers. Climbers are therefore advised to join mountain climbing tours.

PACKAGE TOURS

Many of the tourists coming to Taiwan are on package tours; but the Tourism Bureau hopes to attract more individual travelers.

To do so, signs must be clearly marked in English, routes and directions must be clear and the English-speaking ability of residents must improve.

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