Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mainland Tourists are not Passersby

Mainland Tourists are not Passersby
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
April 28, 2009

As predicted, problems have arisen as the number of mainland tourists arriving on Taiwan has rapidly increased. Taiwan's tourism industry is clearly inadequate in both quantity and quality. More importantly, the government and the tourism industry must disabuse themselves of the myth of quantifiable business opportunities. Only then will Taiwan's tourism industry be able to make something of itself.

The government has been promoting mainland tourism on based on how long a mainland tourist stays on Taiwan and how much he spends each day. The total purportedly constitutes the increase in tourist revenue, the amount of foreign exchange earned, and the employment opportunities created. The government uses statistics to calculate the effectiveness of its policies. These calculations reveal the government and the tourism industry's mindset. Because the mainland has a population of 1.3 billion, local tour operators have treated mainland tourists not as Taiwan's guests. Instead they have myopically viewed each mainland tourist as a one-time business opportunity. They have viewed mainland tourists as passersby. That is why problems with mainland tourists have rapidly increased.

One. One mainland tour group's visa applications were not correctly filed. Without an entry permit the entire tour group was forced to return on the same plane. This revealed communication problems between the two sides. Two. Some tour groups overbooked, then found themselves unable to provide enough tour buses, forcing tourists to wait at the airport. Three. More and more tour guides complain that the three must-see tourist destinations for mainland tourists have problems. The dining facilities at Alishan require standing in line. The National Palace Museum has turned into a farm market. Sun Moon Lake is now littered with trash. All these circumstances were predictable, but we have yet to see any attempt to improve the situation. In particular, price competition within the industry, including below cost price wars, kickbacks from shops, a reduction in the number of tourist attractions, and changing modes of transportation to reduce costs, have led to a decline in the quality of tourism.

The other side is allowing the mainland public to visit Taiwan. Naturally it has political motives. But it also constitutes a show of goodwill. It hopes that interaction between the two sides will reach from top to bottom, via non-governmental exchanges. It hopes to expand contacts to enhance mutual understanding. It hopes to eliminate misunderstanding and hostility. Yet when we encounter mainland tourists on Taiwan, all we see is dollar signs. This fails to make the best use of the opportunity. Worse, it allows mainland vistors to see that Taiwan lacks even a rudimentary understanding of hospitality. The minimal standards Taiwan's tourism industry require have been lost during the quantification of business opportunities.

The tourism industry must not merely make money from tourists. It must become the medium through which visitors can experience the quality of our life, the content of our culture, and the character of our people. The quality of a tourist's experience is the measure of a nation's quality of life. As Landis Hotels and Resorts President Stanley Yen put it, tourism is a way for Taiwan to make friends with the world. A single friendly experience can make a friend. Having made a friend, the rewards that can flow from such a friendship are endless. Conversely, one negative impression after another will lead to the loss of friends, and the loss of any opportunity to develop our tourism industry. If Taiwan wants to develop its tourism industry, it must not harbor only a desire to take tourists to the cleaners. This is true for mainland visitors or foreigners.

Large numbers of mainland tourists arriving on Taiwan provide us with the opportunity to develop our tourism industry. But the government and industry must stop treating mainland tourists as passersby. They must take concrete action. Mainland China will soon be restoring its May 1st long vacation. Government agencies responsible for reviewing and issuing permits to visit Taiwan should ensure that every visitor departs as happily as he arrived. Based on the number of visitors to Taiwan, they must assume an active role in coordinating transportation, dining, and living facilities, ensuring that they meet the surge in tourist demand, As for cases already being dealt with, the relevant authorities should control tourist volume. Until the overall quality of service has been upgraded, they should maintain a strict limit of 3000 tourists a day. They must not use previously unfilled quotas. The purpose is not to limit quanity, but to control quality. In addition, the government must better evaluate and manage travel agencies. It may use quota allocations as an incentive, to prevent cutthroat competition.

The Executive Yuan recently passed its "Tourism Pilot Project." It intends to invest 30 billion NT in a four-year Tourism Development Fund to create 550 billion NT in business opportunities. The government's plans are extravagant and ambitious. But developing tourism requires more than paper planning. It requires a wide range of industries and services. From the executive branch it requires entry and exit permits. From the aviation industry it requires quality flight services. From travel agencies it requires itinerary planning and professional standards for tour guides. From the hotel industry it requires quality facilities and trained personnel. To create a tourist attraction requires efficient transportation routes and even high quality public toilets. It requires efficient cooperation between public authority and private creativity to link all these into a sustainable tourism industry. This is not merely about earning foreign exchange. It is also about improving the quality of life on Taiwan.

We must not view tourists arriving on Taiwan as cash cows to be milked, regardless of where they come from. We must make improvements based on our visitors' perceptions. We must then impress visitors with the improvements we have made.

2009.04.28 05:47 am









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