While the ongoing coronavirus pandemic severely disrupts travel across the planet, a subtropical island in the western Pacific Ocean is already working on reviving its tourism industry. It’s common knowledge that Taiwan’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has been and continues to be one of the best in the world. With only eight active cases on the island at the time of writing and just seven deaths since the first confirmed case back in January, Taiwan’s management of COVID-19 has put that of other countries to shame.
As a result, Taiwanese authorities have stated that international tourism may be able to resume later this year, with foreign travelers potentially being allowed into the country sometime between October and December. (Read more: Taiwan to test all foreign arrivals for COVID-19)
Emirates’ Dubai-Taipei route reopened recently, while students from Vietnam, Hong Kong, Bhutan, Macau, Thailand, Palau, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Fiji, and Mongolia will be allowed to return later this summer for graduation*. However, before any thoughts of planeloads of international visitors can be taken seriously, Taiwan must first revive its domestic tourism industry.
With fears of spreading the virus through intercity travel having been at the forefront of people’s minds for the majority of 2020, many Taiwanese have opted to stay put and not risk visiting other cities. Now, due to Taiwan not having a case of COVID-19 spread domestically for more than three months, Taiwan’s tourism bureau and local travel agencies are ready to encourage locals to start traveling again and are committed to improving their service in the process.
With the majority of non-nationals/residents having been barred from entering the country since March 19 (quarantine rules for business travelers have recently been revised, however), tourism has taken a huge hit, as sites and destinations popular with foreign travelers failed to attract business due to lack of interest from locals. As a result, the tourism industry has found itself in a quandary of sorts: it needs to prepare to eventually welcome back foreign tourists but also offer experiences and tours that will appeal to Taiwanese travelers in order to stay afloat in the meantime and importantly get Taiwanese traveling again.
“One way of doing this is by inviting people to ‘travel deeper,’” says Michael Wu, President of the Dream Travel Taiwan Association and the CEO of MyTaiwanTour local tour agency. The government has been working closely with Taiwanese tourism practitioners to not only revitalize the sector after the blow it was dealt by the virus outbreak, but also develop new ways to travel in order to help the tourism industry through this transformative period. Various local agencies are aiming to produce products that provide authentic local experiences that appeal to both foreigners and locals alike. From rural farm and agricultural experiences to visits to indigenous tribes, and natural yoga retreats to hands-on cooking classes, these products will offer local Taiwanese a more cultural experience than they are used to when traveling domestically and also guarantee foreign visitors a bona fide taste of Taiwan.
Taiwan’s Minister of Transportation and Communications, Lin Chia-Lung, traveled around Taiwan last month, exploring his homeland from a completely different perspective. Many Taiwanese have never previously considered trying things such as river tracing in Yilan, or pineapple picking and jam making in Taitung (both activities enjoyed by Lin during his recent trip), but that is all about to change. The “travel deeper” initiative will hopefully show the people of Taiwan that there is more to exploring their home country than a trip to the coast or a simple hike. (Read more: Sustainable tourism in Taiwan’s bamboo mountain town)
These types of trips will cater to smaller group sizes. Not only to give guests a more intimate experience but also take into consideration social distancing concerns and epidemic prevention precautions; a travel initiative known as 防疫旅遊 in Chinese, roughly translating to safe/secure travel during a virus outbreak. Even in a future where Taiwan hopefully has zero cases of COVID-19, travel will still be a nervy affair for some, so it will be paramount that travel agencies and tour operators can provide their customers peace of mind and security – an aspect of travel that could well become just as important to customers as the actual content of the trips they’re taking. (Read more: Travel Deeper in Eastern Taiwan: Hualien and Taitung)
The aim of this approach is to have the industry back on its feet by the time international travel can resume. Tried and tested products will be ready to go and available to provide visitors with the ultimate Taiwanese experience as soon as they arrive. As one of the premier travel destinations in Asia, it is of great importance that Taiwan’s tourism industry returns to its former glory. Not only from an economic standpoint, but also for the benefit of those visiting. Our small island nation is one of the true gems in this world and the country needs to be ready when the tourists return so we can show everyone why.
*Since publishing, Australia and Hong Kong have been taken off Taiwan’s list of medium-risk destinations, so it is unclear whether this statement still stands.