Sun, Apr 15, 2018 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Kenting works to polish a tarnished reputation

By Kuo Chu-chen and Elizabeth Hsu  /  CNA, with staff writer

A litany of woes — overpriced food and accommodation, crowded and dirty streets, peak-season traffic jams, overbuilding and poor service — has beset Kenting, one of Taiwan’s most popular beach towns, and has been driving tourists away, but some townspeople and stakeholders have woken up to this new reality and are seeking ways to restore the destination’s tarnished reputation.

In July last year, a community volunteer group that organizes occasional charity activities and visits with seniors felt it could no longer ignore visitors’ negative comments and began a movement to clean up Kenting Road.

Every day, Kenting Community Association leader Tseng Chun-hui (曾春惠) marshals volunteers in cleaning up along the road, the main traffic artery serving the town, which is located inside Kenting National Park (墾丁國家公園) on Taiwan’s southernmost tip in Pingtung County.

Supporting efforts by police, Kenting National Park Headquarters and the Pingtung County Government, the group also works with street vendors to have them stay clear of the main road, leaving enough space for pedestrians and vehicles.

The volunteers are eager to improve the town’s environment, but they are fighting a battle that they cannot win on their own, given an almost 50 percent decline in tourists.

Visitor numbers to the area plunged from 8.08 million in 2015 to 4.3 million last year, Kenting National Park Headquarters statistics showed.

In the first two months of this year, 571,216 people visited the area, down from 645,042 visitors for the same period a year earlier and 1.2 million in the first two months of 2016.

The problem is partially due to the decline in Chinese tour groups visiting Taiwan.

About 4 million to 5 million people per year visited Kenting before China in 2010 began allowing its citizens to travel to Taiwan for sightseeing, which pushed visitor numbers to more than 8 million for the first time in 2014.

However, Beijing in 2016 began to curb the flow of Chinese tourists — especially tour groups —to Taiwan due to the new political climate, dealing a serious blow to Kenting’s tourism sector.

Still, the drop in the number of Chinese tour groups does not tell the whole story. Kenting has also become less appealing to domestic tourists, something that Friendly Dog Entertainment general manager Shen Kuan-yuan (沈光遠) said is due to a “people problem” rather than the town’s general environment.

Shen, whose company from 2006 to 2015 organized Kenting’s star-studded Spring Wave Music and Art Festival, feels that the massive inflows of people earlier this decade led to lower-quality services being offered, and drove food and lodging costs to unreasonably high levels.

That was driven home in December last year when a netizen complained on Facebook of exorbitant prices at stands selling braised snacks in the night market on Kenting Road, drawing widespread attention and resonating as a symbol of Kenting’s decline.

The post complained that a plate of braised eggs, soybean curd sheets, pressed tofu and cabbage cost NT$920, something other netizens said would have cost NT$300 in the Taipei suburb of Sanchong.

Others lamented the boom in legal and illegal bed-and-breakfast establishments, the encroachment of street vendors and night market stalls on the main road and the spoiling of Kenting’s once-pristine landscape by traffic congestion during the peak season.

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