Having posted a series of 360-degree videos on its YouTube channel since early last year, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications took the concept a few steps further with Taiwan Traveler, a dedicated Web site featuring dozens of lengthy 360-degree videos, with integrated maps, of popular tourism destinations.
The ministry considers its NT$90 million (US$3.22 million) collaboration with Taiwan AI Labs to be a “new model for tourism,” but not everyone sees it the same way.
Taiwan People’s Party Legislator Ann Kao (高虹安) on July 25 blasted the project as a “waste of people’s hard-earned money,” especially egregious as it was built using funds from the COVID-19 relief budget intended to help battling physical industries.
Unfortunately, funneling money into inconsequential high-tech projects seems to be a favorite pastime of many government agencies.
In pursuit of buzzword goals such as “digital transformation” or “virtual-physical integration,” officials believe it is their duty to create projects using the latest technologies. They seem to prioritize the hottest tech for its own sake, with little thought for basic questions such as for whom or what purpose the project is intended.
To further this point, Kao criticized another of the ministry’s failed projects: a traffic integration app called Umaji (遊買集) that was launched in 2018. About NT$150 million and 23,000 downloads later, the ministry in May last year removed Umaji from app stores and government Web sites, promising that after revisions it would be “even better than Google Maps.” The app is still down.
Of course, the transportation ministry is not the only one entranced by trendy tech. The Taipei City Government seems particularly enthralled with apps, as an investigation by Taipei City Councilor Yang Ching-yu (楊靜宇) showed in May.
Over the past few years, the city has created a shocking 71 apps for a total of more than NT$22 million, 54 of which have been taken down. One app, created by the Taipei Department of Information and Tourism to promote riverside attractions in Tamsui District (淡水), was taken down after only 66 days, costing the city NT$990,000.
That is not to mention the redundant TaipeiPASS (台北通) app that Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) has been desperately promoting as an alternative to existing federal systems for real-name and vaccine registration.
What many officials fail to realize is that the real work of “digitization” is rarely as flashy as a 360-degree video site or a perfectly tailored app. Often what people really need are better versions of existing technologies and integration across systems.
For example, instead of defaulting to an app, the Taipei City Government should first discern where people already go for the same information and work to improve it. In many cases, this would mean redesigning clunky Web sites or working within existing platforms, such as promoting Tamsui attractions through news media or even just on Facebook.
Amid the many changes forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, new buzzwords are being bandied about. Officials are struck by a renewed urgency to adapt to the “new normal” of pervasive digitization, yet little consideration seems to be going into what this would mean after the pandemic, despite claims to the contrary.
For instance, the transportation ministry said it is “preparing for a new model of tourism after the pandemic” as people’s habits shift online, yet what exactly does it envision this new paradigm to be? If anything, people would be itching to go traveling in person, and when that happens, an obscure Web site full of videos — however cool they might be — will not help domestic tourism.
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