Premier Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) said recently at a tourism forum that the government’s target of 6 million foreign tourists this year would be reached by the middle of next month. Through the cooperation between the central and local governments and between the public and private sectors, the government’s goal for next year is to bring 12 million foreign tourists into Taiwan, Chen said. The government has set a high goal for next year, as it hopes to best the record for foreign tourists visiting Taiwan, which was set at 11.86 million in 2019.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, foreign tourist arrivals in 2020 plunged 88.39 percent from the previous year to 1.38 million, and the number fell further the following year to a meager 140,000, the lowest in at least half a century, the Tourism Administration’s statistics showed. Last year, Taiwan welcomed around 900,000 foreign visitors as pandemic restrictions gradually eased, with many countries including Taiwan slowly but steadily lifting border controls and quarantine measures for arrivals.
The government’s success in achieving its goal of 6 million foreign tourists this year over such a short period is in part due to a robust recovery in the international tourism market after the pandemic, but it is also the result of collective efforts from government agencies, travel agencies, hoteliers and other tourism business operators.
Moreover, the Tourism Administration was upgraded from the Tourism Bureau in September, with more resources and personnel being allocated and devoted to marketing Taiwan on the global stage. For instance, the agency has added offices across the world, including in Busan, Jakarta and Paris. It has also formulated aggressive marketing strategies, such as seeking endorsements from foreign celebrities, increasing Taiwan’s exposure through social media and influencers and offering prizes for independent travelers via lotteries.
However, is Taiwan truly ready for double the number of international tourist arrivals next year? In the past three to four years, the industries worst hit by the pandemic were hospitality and catering, with a number of businesses shutting down and many workers laid off. Insufficient staff is still one of the most serious issues besetting these industries today, prompting them to call on the government to help address the issue by easing migrant worker limits; otherwise they would see service quality deteriorate.
Yet the problems Taiwan’s tourism industry face are more than just a labor shortage. Overpriced hotel room rates, expensive local dining, little improvement in tourist attractions over the years and uncompetitive travel services relative to rival destinations in Asia are all structural issues threatening the development of the nation’s tourism sector.
Regarding the ban on tour groups across the Taiwan Strait, inconsistencies among government agencies pose yet another challenge, as the Ministry of Transportation and Communications has said it plans to ease the ban in March next year, while the Mainland Affairs Council still aims to cap the number at 2,000 per day for Chinese group travelers visiting Taiwan, and vice versa.
Taiwan is famous for its night markets, but the days of relying solely on a variety of local delicacies and snacks to attract tourists are gone, and many night markets all look the same and sell the same kinds of stuff.
As a result, the government must conduct a comprehensive review of the tourism industry and address the industry’s structural problems.
Blindly pursuing increases in the number of foreign arrivals and ignoring overall improvements in quality would leave Taiwan at a disadvantage in the fiercely competitive market of international tourism.
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