Nation must be friendlier to SE Asians: lawmaker

Staff writer, with CNA

Sun, Sep 24, 2017 - Page 3

The nation’s first immigrant lawmaker said the government must help create a friendlier environment for Southeast Asians if it wants its New Southbound Policy to be successful.

The Democratic Progressive Party administration that took office in May last year adopted the New Southbound Policy in part to reduce the nation’s economic dependence on China and strengthen ties with ASEAN members.

As part of the policy, Taiwan on Aug. 1 last year relaxed visa restrictions on tourists from several ASEAN members and India.

Legislator Lin Li-chan (林麗蟬) won a seat in January last year as an at-large candidate for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). A native of Cambodia, she became a naturalized Republic of China citizen 20 years ago through marriage.

Lin approved of the government’s focus on ASEAN, but said there was room for improvement if the nation is truly intent on attracting more visitors from the region.

“I believe it is a good thing that the government is willing to spend a lot of time and money to promote the policy, but more concrete measures are needed to create a friendlier environment,” she said.

First, Taiwan needs more Southeast Asian tour guides to cater to increasing demand as tourists from the region take advantage of their visa-free privileges, she said.

For example, arrivals from Thailand rose 57 percent last year from a year earlier to 195,640, and were up another 82 percent in the first seven months of this year, Tourism Bureau statistics show.

The government wants to boost tourism among Southeast Asian nations, but there are not enough tour guides that can speak their languages, Lin said.

“We only have about 100 tour guides who can speak Southeast Asian languages, hardly enough to meet the rising demand,” she said.

New immigrants, most of whom originated from Southeast Asia and moved to Taiwan for marriage or work after the 1990s, have shown interest in taking up the task, but tour guide certification requirements do not work in their favor, she said.

Test-takers must display language skills and knowledge of the nation’s history and culture — barriers to those who are not originally from Taiwan, she said, adding that without formal tour guide certification, new immigrants can only serve as assistants to Taiwanese tour guides and earn much less.

To solve the problem, Lin said that she has worked with the New Taipei City Government to offer training programs to help new immigrants become certified tour guides.

The initiative has proved successful, she said, adding that the Tourism Bureau has decided to launch a similar program nationwide.

The railway system is another impediment to travelers from the region, as it does not announce information in Southeast Asian languages, even though more than 500,000 workers from ASEAN countries take trains regularly, she said.

To address the issue, she invited new immigrants from Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand to record announcements for the Taiwan Railways Administration to make it easier for visitors and migrant workers to navigate the railway system.

The service started in April and is so far available in nine railway stations: Taipei, New Taipei City’s Banciao (板橋), Taoyuan, Taoyuan’s Jhongli District (中壢), Taichung, Changhua, Tainan, Kaohsiung and Pingtung.