Visitors Stats Bounce Back

Taiwan pushes forward with plans to increase its foreign visitors.

By: Steven Rosen

Amid evidence that the SARS-related downturn is travel has subsided, Taiwan in optimistically pushing forward with plans to double its number of foreign visitors by the year 2008.

In particular, the island nation is hoping to attract and increase the number of ecotourists from the United States.

According to recently released statistics, visits to Taiwan from the United States increased by approximately 6.5 percent in September compared to the same time last year.

That is very good news for Taiwan when measured against a 30 percent drop in July, and another drop in August.

And while the total 27,211 visitors to the country in September still was lower than in July and August, the year-to-year increase is significant.

“Usually September is lower because of the season,” said Felix Chen, tourism representative in the travel section of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in San Francisco.

“But look at the attendance,” Chen said. “We are gradually recovering from SARS. We expect October to be a bigger increase.”

Chen said September’s increase was most likely due to people visiting relatives in Taiwan in many cases taking trips postponed from earlier months.

Chen said he expects the hard-hit business travel sector to begin to increase this month.

Tax Refunds

To facilitate tourism growth, Taiwan has started a program to provide foreign travelers with a 5 percent refund on its value-added business tax.

The government has partnered with more than 20 stores throughout Taiwan, including eight in Taipei, to implement the tax-refund program.

Those stores will display a specially designed TRS (tax-return store) logo. To be eligible for the refund, tourists would have to spend more than about $88 at a specific tax-return store on a single day, and then take the items out of Taiwan within 30 days. They must complete forms in the store at the time of purchase, and have them endorsed at the airport before departure.

Chen said the program had been planned for some time, although implementation may have been hastened to combat the SARS-related drop in visitors.

“We want to attract more people to Taiwan,” he said. “People sometimes have the impression Taiwan is more expensive some people say if you go to Taiwan for three days, you could go to Thailand for five days.”

The program’s purpose, then, is to give tourists a reward for coming to Taiwan. Chen said visitors to Taiwan especially like to shop for such items as jade, Chinese teas and native handicrafts.

Ambitious Goals

The tax-refund program is a first major step in the government’s plan, announced last year, to double tourism by 2008. In 2002, a total of 2.7 million visitors came to the island.

The country would especially like to increase U.S. leisure travel. According to 2001 statistics, the most recent that Chen had available, most of the 340,000 U.S. visitors (roughly 132,000) that year came for business. About 111,000 came to visit relatives; traditional vacationers accounted for 60,200.


Indeed, Taiwan has just completed a road show of its tourist attractions in four U.S. cities San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington and New York. Chefs from Taipei’s Grand Hyatt Hotel prepared food and arts groups performed.

The country also is advertising on CNN Headline News and inviting select travel agents for tours.

Taiwan is especially promoting its natural resources after designating 2002 its year of ecotourism.

Because Taiwan is small compared to many other Asian countries, and perhaps because some people confuse it with Hong Kong, many U.S. tourists may not think of it as having a lot of open space.

But the island nation has a variety of elevations and climates. And even with a population of 22 million, it has an elaborate system of six national parks and 11 national scenic areas across the island. It even has a mountain railway.

“Because we’re a small nation with high mountains, our climate ranges from the tropical to the temperate zones,” Chen said. “So there’s quite a variety of flora and fauna.

“Our highest mountain is almost 13,000 feet and we have 200 peaks over 10,000 feet,” he said.

“Our most famous attraction is Taroka Gorge, a marble gorge, which is in a national park (in eastern Taiwan) where they’ve developed seven hiking trails for visitors,” Chen said.

Nature Options

Visitors also can see plenty of butterflies and birds because of the nation’s predominantly warm, humid climate and location on the western edge of the Pacific.

As a result, Taiwan is making a strong effort to appeal to bird-watchers and butterfly lovers, and to capitalize on an increased interest in birding in the wake of the movie “Winged Migration.”

Chen points out that Taiwan has the second-highest concentration of species per square kilometer in the world some 450 species of birds have been spotted there including endangered species like the black-faced spoonbill, of which fewer than 700 are believed to exist in the world.

During the winter migration season (roughly October to April), 300 of the birds have been counted in Taiwan. Bird-watching societies are popular in Taiwan.

Butterfly-watching is seen as a potential tourist lure as well. Some 400 types of butterflies have been observed in Taiwan, including 50 species exclusive to the nation. Tourist officials have listed sites where they can be seen; two separate counties have places known as Butterfly Valley.

The country also is trying hard to inform tourists that it is a wildlife haven. The island nation is home to about 18,400 animal species, with about 20 percent considered rare or endangered. These include the Formosan black bear, Formosan rock monkey and Taiwan mountain goat.

Taiwan also is vigorously promoting its hot springs for adventurous outdoor enthusiasts.

The country has gone into great detail on its Web site to propose several two- and three-day tours of the springs, since it has more than 100 in both coastal and mountain areas.

Because there is subterranean heat throughout the island, it also has an abundance of bathing springs from hot and cold to mud and seabed.

Scenic Beach Resorts

Oddly enough, Taiwan is not heavily touting its beaches.

Even though it has a luxuriously sandy, Hawaii-like beach resort called Kending on its southern tip, it isn’t a promotional priority.

“We’ve found out that for people to go such a long way to Taiwan, they want something different,” Chen said.

What is different are the windswept rocky coastal scenic attractions in northern Taiwan, where the wind has helped create unusual rock formations. Chen said he believes the Yehliu scenic coastal site could become a popular attraction for U.S. visitors because of its haunting and artistically shaped rocks.

“There is a Queen’s head the shape is like an ancient queen,” he said. “You also see rocks in the shape of a mushroom, slippers and a candlestick.”