The Chiayi County Government launched a “Save Alishan Drive” yesterday with the aim of increasing the number of tourists to Alishan — once the nation’s most popular tourist destination but presently suffering a decline — to 1 million people per year.
Chiayi County Commissioner Chang Hwa-kuan (張花冠) said that since the Alishan area was severely damaged by massive flooding and landslides caused by Typhoon Morakot in August, the number of visitors has decreased dramatically.
So far this year, only 94,780 people have visited Alishan for the cherry blossom season between March 15 and April 15, just 33 percent of the number who came last year for the area’s most popular annual event, Chang said.
The figure was even smaller than the number who came for the cherry blossom season in 2004, the year following the outbreaks of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), she said.
Citing Tourism Bureau statistics, Chang said Alishan attracted 175,571 sightseeing visitors in the first three months of this year, representing a decline of 422,046 — or 71 percent — compared with the same period last year.
This reflects the fact that tourism in the Alishan area is in recession, she said.
In an effort to revive tourism, Chang invited tour and hotel operators in the mountain resort area to join the drive. She also urged the central government to help by opening up the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area up to free visits and repairing the forest railway that has been closed since suffering severe damage caused by Morakot.
Chang said she hoped that the number of tourists to Alishan would recover to an average annual level of 800,000 people within a year, and rise to 1 million within two years.