“We will be plugging ourselves into Edison, and we will be more like a consultant. We are set up as a booking engine, not a travel agent.”
Taiwan has been remarkably successful at promoting tourism overall, but a breakdown of figures shows that the increase is primarily a result of tourism from China.
Growth in this sector has been almost exponential, rising from 329,204 in 2008 to 2.58 million last year. Tourism from Europe was just 218,245 last year, only a marginal increase over the same period (200,914 in 2008). Sinclair puts this down to a failure of marketing efforts directed at Western tourists, as well as the lack of convenience compared to locations such as Thailand and Malaysia, where services for Western tourists are much more proactive.
Room for improvement
Crook said in an e-mail interview that the tourism environment for Western tourists had improved immeasurably since he started writing about Taiwan in 1996.
“I don’t only mean bilingual signs and leaflets, and people in visitor information centers who can answer questions in English. I mean the general attitude (both in officialdom and in private-sector entities) toward backpackers, cyclists, hikers, eco-tourists, everyone who isn’t traveling in the ‘traditional’ tour-group-with-lots-of-shopping-and-eating manner. The industry as a whole is a lot more broad-minded than it used to be,” he said.
He added that “Taiwan is still way behind Thailand, Indonesia and Nepal when it comes to tourism outfits run by foreigners and specifically tailored to the needs of foreign visitors.” It is just these sorts of services that Sinclair believes could draw a wider range of guests eager for new experiences.
Sinclair said that he hoped that through Life of Taiwan he would be able to give back something to Taiwan for all the opportunities and experiences it has given him over more than two decades as a resident here. He feels that Taiwan’s tourism authorities do not fully understand what it is Western visitors are looking for in a destination. “They have used domestic thinking and imagery and cuteness, and have not really grasped what an international tourist is looking for… For the domestic market, the infrastructure is very well developed, but for international guests (looking beyond the basics), it is almost impossible to navigate (on their own). There is still not enough thinking about the internationalization of the tourism environment.”
Sinclair said that while Life of Taiwan is a commercial venture, it was also a call to action “to make Taiwan, its unique people and culture, more accessible to international visitors.” It is an effort to provide the information about Taiwan to incentivize more Western tourists to visit. In addition, further writing by Crook, who is currently updating his Bradt guide for publication in spring 2014, can be found at crooksteven.blogspot.com.
A huge library of images of Taiwan, photographed by Matheson, can be seen at www.thetaiwanphotographer.com. The Web site organizers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org