Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) Legislator Ann Kao (高虹安) yesterday accused the Ministry of Transportation and Communications of wasting public funds after the ministry spent NT$90 million (US$3.2 million) in COVID-19 relief funds to make virtual reality (VR) travel videos to promote a “new model of tourism.”
The ministry, in collaboration with Taiwan AI Labs, earlier this year created the Taiwan Traveler Web site featuring interactive 360-degree videos of popular tourism events and destinations.
Aiming to provide an at-home travel experience for domestic and foreign tourists, the site launched with videos from the Dajia Matsu Pilgrimage (大甲媽祖遶境), Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) in Nantou County and Alishan (阿里山).
The project was paid for through the government’s special budget for COVID-19 relief; funds that should have been used for pandemic relief, Kao said in a video statement.
Instead they were used on an idea that fails to comprehend real trends, “serving only to waste people’s hard-earned money,” she said.
Kao said she understands that the ministry wants to promote digital tourism, but the essential purpose of tourism is to not only allow people to see the world, but to galvanize local economies and boost their prestige.
“When we spend so much on technology that does so little for physical tourism, is that not putting the cart before the horse?” she asked.
She also questioned the purpose of the videos, saying that trying to generate travel demand during a pandemic is not the best timing.
The incident is reminiscent of “Umaji,” another failed ministry project from last year, she said.
After spending NT$150 million on the app intended to integrate modes of transportation, the ministry quietly took it down, Kao said.
The Tourism Bureau’s YouTube channel has some quality videos, some of which have received hundreds of thousands of views, she said.
However, its more recent uploads, especially the 360-degree videos, have only garnered a few hundred views, she added, questioning the point of rehashing the same types of unpopular videos in the Taiwan Traveler project.
Kao said she has found that many government agencies suffer from this technology myth.
They pursue digitization through programs with massive budgets without clarifying actual needs or intentions, Kao said.
“Digital transformation” is not about sloganeering or spending money, she said, adding that failing to understand trends only results in money being wasted.
The ministry yesterday defended its “open platform for immersive films” as a leading global initiative designed to help the post-pandemic travel industry.
As tourism development during a pandemic requires forward-looking strategies, the ministry has adopted a number of strategies to help the industry weather the storm, it said.
People’s lifestyles and employment and consumption habits are rapidly moving online, it said, adding that traditional markets would not recover if they do not prepare in advance.
A number of local businesses are already planning to design tours using the site in preparation for the new tourism model, it said.
The ministry said it created the Taiwan Traveler platform to “set an example for the digital transformation of domestic tourism.”
Additional reporting by Chen Hsin-yu
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