Source： Taiwan Today
By Meg Chang
After two months of extensive media coverage and much anticipation, the Tourism Bureau announced Taiwan’s top 10 tourism towns March 14. Chosen in a two-part competition, these locales are expected to be the focus of the bureau’s upcoming international promotional campaigns, leading efforts to develop Taiwan’s tourism nationwide.
The winning towns are spread throughout the country: Anping in the southern city of Tainan; Dajia, Taichung County, central Taiwan; Daxi in the northern county of Taoyuan; Jincheng in outlying Kinmen County; and Lugang in Changhua County in the west were all selected for their rich cultural and religious heritage.
Taipei City’s Beitou District and Jiaoxi, Yilan County, in the northeast, both known for their hot springs, also made the list. Jiji, in the central county of Nantou; Kaohsiung City’s Meinong, in the south; and New Taipei City’s Ruifang were chosen for their distinctive railway culture, Hakka traditions and famous old streets, respectively, the bureau said.
Three more towns were found to be so distinctive that the agency expanded the list to include Juisui, Hualien County, in the east, as the cleanest town; Miaoli County’s Sanyi as the town with the most unique local characteristics; and Xinyi District of Taipei City as the most internationally appealing spot. Each of the 13 towns will receive NT$500,000 (US$17,000) from the bureau for future promotional activities.
“According to visitor exit surveys conducted over the past decade, foreign travelers often cited the locals’ easy lifestyle and warm hospitality as what impressed them the most during their stay in the country,” Wayne Liu, deputy director-general of the bureau, told Taiwan Today April 2. “We want to leverage these great assets and create new travel experiences that can really touch the hearts of our visitors.”
Nantou County's Jiji boasts some of the best cycling routes in Taiwan. (Courtesy of Nantou County Government)
Taiwan has so much more to offer other than just Alishan, Sun Moon Lake and Taipei 101, Liu pointed out. “By introducing these hidden treasures to vacationers, the bureau also hopes to direct the sector’s development from cursory tours of major attractions to in-depth travel,” he said, adding that these arrangements will help balance the industry’s growth, bring more business to merchants countrywide and revitalize the local economies.
The first stage of the contest, beginning in late January, included online and mail voting among 17 selected townships and counted for 20 percent of the final weighting. Based on observations from their previous visits to these sites, referees consisting of experts and sector representatives then reviewed the finalists’ major draws, facilities and services against a list of preset criteria. Their opinions made up the remaining 80 percent.
The campaign is one of the most successful activities initiated by the bureau in recent years, with more than 5.19 million votes cast and the number of website page views exceeding 10 million, Liu noted. “We welcome the publicity, as the great response will force local administrators to take inventory of their tourism assets and brainstorm for measures to attract more holidaymakers.”
Liu said he had seen some immediate changes in the towns vying for the honor. “Daxi has done particularly well in reinventing and marketing itself as a vacation destination. Jiaoxi has revamped the region’s traffic and planned a better visitor route, while Meinong now boasts road signs that incorporate its Hakka elements,” he said. “These upgrades reflect a change in the attitudes of local officials and certainly bode well for the future development of tourism.”
Traditional lanterns created by national culture and arts award winner Wu Den-hou are a major draw in Lugang, Changhua County. (Courtesy of Changhua County Government)
But Liu also said there is still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to preparedness for receiving international guests. “Transportation and traffic signs are two areas that need to be worked on. There should also be more bilingual guides readily available to explain the towns’ unique characteristics to visitors. These are all important aspects of a tourist-friendly environment.”
Lugang has done a tremendous job in these respects, Liu said, giving as an example how the town leveled the walkways in its arcades, making a stroll along its old streets safer and more enjoyable. But Tian Fei-peng, director-general of the Changhua County Department of City and Tourism, said this is just part of the government’s ongoing drive to make Lugang a more visitor-friendly place. “We have a number of projects in the pipeline and will seek assistance from the Council for Economic Planning and Development in implementing them.”
Lee Wei-wen, former chairman of Taipei-based Society of Wilderness and one of the referees, cited easy access by public transportation as the deciding factor in his evaluation. “With carbon reduction so important, traveling by car is no longer a preferable choice,” he said. “In addition, taking public transportation is a great way for visitors to interact with locals and experience the real taste of life in Taiwan.”
According to Lee, Ruifang is a model for its peers in terms of accessibility. “There is a regular bus from downtown Taipei to major attractions in the area, including the famous Jiufen old streets and Gold Museum,” he said. “Kinmen County takes this approach one step further with tour guides on local buses who are totally committed to sharing knowledge about their home. Little things like these really make a big difference.”
Well-preserved traditional farmhouses are part of Meinong's rich Hakka heritage. (Courtesy of Kaohsiung City Government)
Patrick Su, another referee and assistant professor at National Kaohsiung University of Hospitality and Tourism, believes participation and efforts by town residents to create a welcoming atmosphere will leave a lasting impression on tourists. “I was most touched by the warm hellos from locals and the attentive services offered by Meinong merchants during my recent trip there,” he said. “This kind of hospitality can transcend cultural or language barriers and is what makes the Hakka town stand out among its rivals.”
Su also concurred with Lee that poor traffic connections and route planning are problems common to most of Taiwan’s tourist sites. “The inconvenience is really a downer and can put visitors in danger as roads in these places are often narrow and crowded with traffic.” Some of the towns also need marketing campaigns and travel packages that better underscore their unique tourism draws, he added.
The Tourism Bureau’s Liu said the contest has increased the visibility of these tourist spots. But while the agency can offer assistance in launching overseas promotion campaigns and stands ready to extend a helping hand, the major responsibility for improving infrastructure and services lies with local governments, he added.
“I believe officials in these towns now see the potential of tourism in revitalizing their economies. The bureau will continue to ride this wave, rolling out programs to drive Taiwan’s tourism forward.” (THN)
Write to Meg Chang at email@example.com