The Government Must Create a Friendlier Environment for Tourism
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
October 26, 2012
Summary: The global economy has experienced a downturn. Tourism revenue has eased the impact of Taiwan's diminished exports. Taiwan must improve its tourism environment. This will ensure long-term profitability. It will also promote Taiwan's attractions and values in the international community. This deserves our support. It is something government agencies should work harder to achieve.
Full text below:
Tourists from the Chinese mainland have flooded into Taiwan. This has led to a significant increase in tourism revenue in recent years. But recently word emerged of foreign tourists being charged astronomical prices for fruits. Clearly government oversight of Taiwan tourism remains inadequate. The long term survival of the tourism industry depends upon word of mouth. If one fruit vendor charges rip off prices, the price will be paid by all. The agencies in charge must not allow one bad apple to spoil the entire barrel.
The Tourism Bureau has recently received numerous complaints from Mainland Chinese and Singaporean tourists. Some fruit vendors at the Shilin Night Market have been charging 1800 NT for pineapples. They have been charging 1100 NT for four bags of sliced fruit. Compare that to the market price, and it is clear they are ripping off foreign tourists. Needless to say, any positive impression of Taiwan the tourists might have had, will be utterly destroyed. After returning home, they may warn friends and relatives to steer clear of Taiwan. They may even post warnings on the Internet.
The follow-up was even more discouraging. The Tourism Bureau said these vendors were the responsibility of local governments. Between March and May of this year, the Taipei City Government received a series of reports from the Tourism Bureau. The Market Management Department of the Taipei City Government tracked and confirmed the incidents. It issued "Travelers Alerts" for five fruit vendors. It sent a letter to the Tourism Bureau of the MOTC, to be forwarded to travel agencies, advising tourists not to patronize these merchants. In other words, they advised travel agents to warn tourists to avoid these merchants. But they failed to issue alerts to individual tourists. Nor did they issue warnings to, or impose penalties upon vendors who charged rip off prices. The Shilin Night Market Council said the vendors were not members of their council. Therefore the council could not intervene.
What sort of oversight is this? Vendors remain free to charge rip off prices. Only travel agencies advise tourists to steer clear. But other tourists, traveling on their own, are left to fend for themselves? This sort of passive oversight turns overseers into accomplices. Foreign tourists are unaware of the market prices for fruit. These vendors exploit their lack of information, and take advantage of them. This is despicable. Is it even legal? Law enforcement agencies should clarify. Such behavior harms Taiwan's tourism industry. It results in a loss of revenue. It undermines the island's image. It discredits its tourism industry. The government agencies responsible must not tolerate such conduct.
Only rigorous oversight and strict penalties for unscrupulous businesspeople will ensure a sound business environment and quality service. Mainland tourists were charged astronomical prices for tea leaves in the past. But after the vendors were prosecuted, such incidents became infrequent. Therefore this is all undoable.
At the very least, vendors must clearly indicate their prices. That way the customer can make comparisons. The agencies responsible can issue some sort of sticker to vendors who operate above board, for the benefit of tourists. They can set up service and complaint centers nearby so that tourists may seek assistance.
Taiwan's tourism industry has made a real effort over the years. It has achieved a great deal. Last year the tourism industry earned over 11 billion USD in foreign exchange. It grew by 26.4%. Approximately 6.08 million tourists visited the island. This represents an 9.4% increase over the previous year. Tourism foreign exchange earnings and the number of international tourists rose to record highs. Mainland tourists still account for the lion's share. But Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korean tourists have also increased.
In the eyes of foreign tourists, Taiwan's main attractions are its cuisine, night markets, cultural diversity, natural beauty, and its human touch. That is why CNN's travel website lists Taiwan near the top of its list. But the tourism industry is a multi-faceted service industry. No link should be overlooked. Every link must be included. Take the Shihlin Night Market fruit price rip offs. They underscore the potential problems caused by neglect. Also, if Taiwan hopes to develop its tourism industry. it must increase the use of English.
For years, foreign tourists have complained about how unfriendly the environment is to foreigners who rely on English. Many places lack English signs. Others have chaotic signage. The same road may have several different translations. Halfway down the road, another name may appear. People wind up utterly confused. Foreigners wind up questioning the country's governance. Yet the administration seems to think the matter lacks urgency. The massive influx of tourists from the Mainland in recent years, who speak, read, and write Chinese, has masked the problem of a poor English environment.
The problem remains. According to the Tourism Bureau of the MOTC, South Korean tourists' satisfaction rating was only 75%. This was far lower than the 94.39% for tourists from other countries. Korean tourists were most dissatisfied with the lack of English communication skills among Taiwan public. Over 37% of all Korean tourists were troubled most by the tourism environment and language difficulties. They complained that roads and facilties lacked Korean signage.
The global economy has experienced a downturn. Tourism revenue has eased the impact of Taiwan's diminished exports. Taiwan must improve its tourism environment. This will ensure long-term profitability. It will also promote Taiwan's attractions and values in the international community. This deserves our support. It is something government agencies should work harder to achieve.