Taiwan Tourism’s Moving On Up

Taiwan is a microcosm of everything that is Asia – ancient cultures and modern amenities; breathtaking mountains and verdant beaches; culinary treats and active vacation adventures. But up until recently, it’s been a well-kept secret in the North American marketplace.

Not anymore, thanks to the Taiwan Tourism Bureau here and the country’s ongoing “Go2Taiwan” campaign. More and more U.S. and Canadian tour operators are adding the destination to their inventories, there’s more activity targeted to the trade and last year, more than 200,000 cruise passengers tasted its delights. More importantly, the numbers clearly show that the Taiwan Tourism Bureau promotions are paying off.

The total visitor numbers from the U.S. last year came in at 369,258, but more importantly, leisure traffic numbers hit 130,557, a 5.3 percent increase over the previous year at a time when many destinations were looking at double digit drops. “That part is pretty good,” says Michael Chang, director of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau in New York City. “It used to be that the business trip numbers took up about 75 percent. Now, it’s down to 30 percent as the leisure travelers increased and the business travelers decreased. That means people are getting more and more interested in visiting Taiwan just for fun, for leisure, and the numbers are rising more and more, so that’s a good sign.”

And those increases are no accident. For the last couple of years, the country’s tourism entities have pulled out all the stops in their promotional efforts. Passengers with more than seven hours of transit time in the capital of Taipei, for example, get a free half-day tour of the city. “There are two million passengers who transit our airport in Taipei, most of whom just stay in the airport, some for more than 10 hours. So for those people, we offer a free half-day tour of the city.… You just exit and get on our bus for a tour of Taipei and the neighborhoods and it’s all free. Of course, if they could stay one more night, that would be better. But it’s a good opportunity to take a look at Taiwan and then, when they plan their next trip, they might want to stay longer.”

That 1-night stay would indeed be better, especially for the traveler who can take advantage of the Super Value Stop in the Taiwan promotion. The program really is an incredible deal. “For only $1, you can stay one night in a spectacular five-star hotel in Taipei,” Chang explains. “This one is especially for the American and European market—it’s not open to any other market—because of the long-haul trip. That program runs only until March 31; it’s been running since last July. At that time, we’ll evaluate it and see whether to extend it or not. Both are designed to attract the transit and the business traveler,” he adds.

The third promotion is the country’s seasonal Taiwan Giveaway promotion. Travelers who join quality package tours offered by tour operators receive a gift upon arrival in Taiwan. In the spring, travelers get a Taipei MRT ticket for free transport throughout the city during their stay; in the summer, they get one entrance ticket to selected tourist theme parks; in the fall, they’ll get one locally produced gift from local merchants; and in the winter, a hot spring bath voucher.

“We also have a program for groups and associations, depending on the group size,” Chang says. “We’ll provide a Taiwan souvenir, a gift and welcome banner for a photograph of the group. If the group is over 100, Taiwan Tourism will provide a cultural performance. This one is very good for the cruise lines. We’ll provide a cultural performance right on the dock to welcome the passengers. Just like Hawaii, right?”

But what’s really put the punch in Taiwan’s tourism efforts here in North America, is the promotional subsidies offered to U.S. and Canadian tour operators, a program that’s drawn some pretty big tour operators into the Taiwan fold. “We’re also expanding our subsidy program for tour operator’s promotional expenses. We’ll be offering to cover up to 50 percent of their promotional expenses to encourage them to promote Taiwan. In 2009, we added a lot of major tour operators such as Pacific Delight, Orient Flexi-Pax, Goway Travel, Aberdeen Tours, Tours Hai, Tour East, SITA World Travel and Majestic Tours. We’re looking for even more in the future.”