Why are the heads of Taiwan’s central and local governments so fixated on promoting the tourism industry, as if there were no other sectors worth promoting?
After former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was inaugurated on May 20, 2008, he proceeded to lift restrictions on exchanges between Taiwan and China, opening Taiwan’s doors to Chinese tourists. Scenic areas soon filled up with Chinese visitors, as did attractions like Taipei 101.
The mayors and commissioners of Taiwan’s 22 municipalities and counties followed suit by adopting policies and offering incentives designed to attract tourists from China. Since then, almost all heads of local governments have been prioritizing the tourism sector in their policies.
This trend is exemplified by newly recalled Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜). Economic policies proposed during his 2018 election campaign included building a Ferris wheel, a horse racing track and a theme park, developing medical tourism and attracting more visitors to places such as Cijin Island (旗津島) and the Love River (愛河).
Setting aside the question of how far he got with implementing these policies, remarkably more than half of his policy proposals dealt with tourism.
It is similar all over Taiwan. Almost every municipal mayor and county commissioner, including the heads of Tainan, Miaoli, Pingtung, Taichung and Hualien, have made tourism their top concern.
However, things took a turn for the worse at the beginning of the year when COVID-19 spread in Wuhan, China. Although Taiwan has done a good job controlling the virus, places and businesses all over the nation that depend on tourism, including night markets, tour bus operators, travel agents and hotels, have been hit hard by travel restrictions.
COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of the tourism industry by turning it from hero to zero almost overnight.
Taiwan has plenty of dynamic business sectors that have never been similarly favored by government authorities.
Politicians seem to have a very shallow understanding of business and industry. Taiwan’s stock market features businesses in the fields of finance, electronics, chemicals, information, communications, biomedicine, precision machinery, food, aerospace, renewable energy and construction.
Many of those businesses have managed to keep growing even during the COVID-19 pandemic, but none of them have received the attention they deserve. Instead, the central and local governments have not stopped blindly worshiping the tourism sector as their policy achievement savior.
On May 28, China’s National People’s Congress approved a plan to implement national security legislation in Hong Kong. This decision is likely to be a wake-up call for foreign-invested businesses in China to pack up and move to friendlier places.
This is the best opportunity for Taiwan in decades, and central and local governments should think about how to adjust their policies accordingly.
The nation should develop scientific and technological industries that suit the geographical characteristics of each region and build infrastructure to support them. Policy incentives could be offered to attract businesses to those areas, along with human resources, investment and technology.
This is the direction in which politicians and government officials should be thinking.
Joly Lin is vice chairman of Mennonite Christian Hospital and vice president of a company.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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