Taoyuan International Airport Requires Tourism Marketing
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
February 23, 2010
A nation's international airport is its front door. Foreign visitors receive their first impression of a nation through its airport. Their last impression of a nation is also of its airport. Building technology on Taiwan may be advanced. But in many respects the Republic of China's front door is far from satisfactory.
International competition is fierce. It is like sailing against the wind. Failure to advance amounts to retreat. Other countries are progressing by leaps and bounds. If we merely mark time, we will soon be left behind. This is true for both airport facilities and airport services. Governments everywhere are scrambling to create a positive image of their country, by putting on their best face. But the Republic of China has been negligent. Its front door is tasteless and bland. The impression it leaves is negative.
Today the Airports Council International (ACI) made public its 2009 Airport Service Quality Awards. Asian countries shone. The top five airports were Seoul Incheon International Airport, Singapore Changi Airport, Hong Kong International Airport, Beijing Capital International Airport, and Hyderabad Rajiv Ghandi International Airport. Incheon International Airport has come in first for five consecutive years. Changi and Chek Lap Kok Airport have also been leaders. They must be given credit for their international acclaim.
Now let's look at our own Taoyuan International Airport. In 2007 it ranked 14th. In 2008 it fell to 18th. In 2009 it plummeted to 27th. This is disgraceful and humiliating. Why are certain leading international airports always paragons? Taoyuan is the front door to one of Asia's Four Tigers. When even Beijing and Hyderabad are catching up, why is Taoyuan falling behind? The numbers do not lie, and warrant our attention.
Travelers who have visited the aforementioned Asian cities immediately notice the difference, the most obvious difference being popularity. Incheon, Changi, and Chek Lap Kok are popular. They are filled with a wide variety of passengers of different ethnic backgrounds and skin colors, wearing different kinds of clothing. The restaurants overflow with diners. The gift shops overflow with customers. The impression conveyed is one of cutting edge international metropolises, bubbling with dynamism.
Airline security measures, transfers, transiting, and customs clearance are often time consuming. Families loaded down with large and small packages find the experience especially burdensome. Passengers are often stuck at airports for a long time. If the facilities and services are well thought out, the impression it leaves will be dramatic. Word of mouth will spread.
Not every international airport makes the grade. But good airports leave visitors with long-lasting, positive impressions. Some have spacious and comfortable lounge areas, smoking areas, and rest rooms. Some have internet services indispensable to the modern traveler. Some airports understand the needs of transit passengers. They provide showers, hair salons, and leisure facilities, allowing the weary traveler to recuperate. Some provide locally themed restaurants and shops attractive to international travelers.
Taoyuan International Airport, by contrast, is in many respects rather rudimentary. The restaurants are unimpressive, both in quantity and quality. They fail to showcase Taiwan's rich cuisine, and the prices range from excessive to outrageous. The shops lack local color. The terminal building lacks style, both inside and outside. It lacks an overall concept. It fails to provide the services consumers expect and need. Even the handcarts are difficult to use. Travelers are feel alienated and out in the cold. Add to this inconvenient transportation links to the outside world. The Taoyuan Airport and other domestic airports lack connections to local MRT systems. In short, Taoyuan is not an airport befitting an international city.
Other international airports are boldly designed and intelligently operated. By contrast, our tired administrative practices are clearly behind the times. Given existing practices, any breakthrough is unlikely. Therefore international airport operations should be placed under the auspices of the central government. Both the "software" and the "hardware" for the Taoyuan International Airport must be upgraded. Transportation must facilitate the marketing of local tourism, local culture, and other tourist resources. Ways must be found to transform Taiwan into an Asian transportation hub. The upgrading of airport services is merely one link in this chain.
A unified effort is required because Taoyuan International Airport lacks patronage. A lack of patronage increases operating costs. To overcome this problem requires greater government support, at least initially. In the long term however, what is required is a bold and farsighted national marketing plan. Dressing up the nation's front door will require more than just a coat of paint.
It will require higher level decision-making. High-level decision-makers must realize the importance of this issue. Taoyuan International Airport's ranking has been falling steadily. The central government must realize that this is not about Taoyuan Airport alone.