Penghu’s rising popularity as a travel destination for local and international visitors has created both opportunities and challenges for the Tourism Bureau.
The outlying islands form one of the counties that lie on the Tropic of Cancer, along with Chiayi, Hualien, Nantou, Yunlin and Greater Kaohsiung.
To celebrate the Summer Solstice this year, the bureau hosted an evening concert on Saturday at Penghu’s Yuwongdao Lighthouse (漁翁島燈塔), the nation’s oldest lighthouse, which has been in use since 1875.
The number of visitors to the islands rose 10 percent in the first five months of the year compared with the same time last year, Penghu National Scenic Area Administration Deputy Director Hsieh Wen-ta (謝文達) said, adding that last month alone, it climbed 23 percent from a year ago.
Hsieh cited several reasons for the increase, including a greater variety of tour packages, prompting more independent travelers to visit.
For example, the Beiliao (北寮) area has attracted more tourists over the past two years because of the Kueibishan (奎璧山) Recreation Area, where visitors can walk on a pathway formed by basalt stones that only emerges when the tide ebbs, Hsieh said.
“The experience reminds people of the story of Moses leading the Israelites across the Red Sea, in which the sea parted to make way for them,” he said.
Agency data showed that 70 percent of the islands’ visitors were independent travelers, and only 30 percent traveled with groups.
Penghu was chosen by Lonely Planet in 2011 as one of its top 10 paradise islands and was listed as one of the beautiful bays in the world by a UNESCO-backed non-governmental organization. These helped put the outlying islands on the radar screen of travel enthusiasts looking for new tour destinations, Hsieh said.
While Taiwanese used to favor travel to Southeast Asian countries, the recent political and economic turmoil in countries like Thailand and Vietnam have encouraged many to spend their holiday in Taiwan instead, he said.
Chen Shuen-shiu (陳順序), chief of the agency’s recreation section, said that tourists mainly visit Penghu in spring and summer.
However, many find it hard to book flights and accommodation during the peak season, he said.
Visitors numbers plunge during winter because of the strong gusts brought by the northeastern monsoons, he added.
Because of the seasonal factor, hotel room rates can rise to a high of NT$6,000 during the travel season and fall drastically to NT$1,600 during wintertime.
Tourism Bureau Deputy Director-General Wayne Liu (劉喜臨) said the country attracts about 700,000 visitors per year, with foreign tourists accounting for only about 5 percent.
“We have noticed that more and more tourists are coming from Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau and even Japan,” Liu said. “Apart from the distinct natural environment, they have observed that the outlying islands have a very different culture and history from that of Taiwan proper.”
Liu said the bureau plans to beef up the county’s infrastructure to meet the rising demand, including transportation and accommodation.
The bureau has also launched a more aggressive tourism campaign to market Penghu, such as inviting travel agents and reporters from Hong Kong to experience a tour around the islands.
In addition to increasing regular and charter flight services to Penghu, Liu said the bureau is seeking to bring in more tourists by sea.