Taiwan has many positive attributes in its favor as it seeks to further promote its international tourism, but there are also numerous shortcomings. Some of them were identified in the Ministry of Transportation and Communications’ Tourism 2020 – Taiwan Sustainable Tourism Development Plan: insufficient capacity to receive international visitors, lack of development of unique tourism products, overcrowding at certain popular attractions, the need to improve tourism safety, the lack of assistance services at some sightseeing areas, accessibility problems at certain scenic spots, and the failure of some ministries to fully realize the importance of tourism development.
Success in tackling these problems will require the joint efforts of the central and local governments, along with industry. The AmCham Travel & Tourism Committee looks forward to sharing global experience with relevant government representatives to help them gain more understanding regarding global travel trends and visitor needs.
The trend of digitalization, coupled with the substantial expansion and application of the telecommunications infrastructure, makes more tools available for travel industry promotion. Already, high-quality and diverse digital tourism – digital support for the tourist experience – is increasing rapidly, and digital applications such as online platforms, social media, and real-time feeds are driving the transformation of travel behavior. To meet the needs of more sophisticated travelers, customized travel services have become popular, and real-time information and flexibility have become important elements in the travel experience.
The Tourism Bureau’s recent announcement of plans to implement the Destination Management Organization (DMO) program is exciting news. The Committee regards this plan as a potentially highly effective means of promoting tourism by helping localities capitalize on their unique characteristics and attractions.
As we mentioned in the 2019 White Paper, the traditional policy-formulation model may not be sufficient to cope with the new challenges brought by the digital economy, and so we offer the following recommendations:
Suggestion 1: Take full advantage of the digital economy to support Taiwan’s tourism industry development.
1.1 Invite domestic and foreign players to help optimize digital applications to promote tourism. The Committee urges the government to set up more working groups together with relevant domestic and foreign enterprises to enlarge and strengthen the scope of public-private cooperation in the use of digital platforms for tourism development. This coordination should be aimed at developing smart tourism applications with global standards, as well as providing information on international trends, the current status of Taiwan’s travel-related industries and markets, and opportunities for digital distribution.
1.2 Improve tourism logistics services through digital technology. The government should combine emerging technologies to assist related businesses, provide real-time information for international travelers and Taiwan nationals, provide travel and lodging recommendations, develop special itineraries, and deploy intelligent traffic-monitoring systems to improve the travel experience. Through the provision of digital information in real time and sharing of wireless networks, important data can be gathered, such as passenger preferences, travel paths, and travel habits. Cooperation between the government and online platform operators with technological expertise and data can help drive industry growth and improve the level of service.
Suggestion 2: Develop the DMO model to promote a comprehensive, in-depth travel experience in Taiwan.
DMO is common in many major tourism markets, such as Europe, America, and Japan. The purpose is to integrate fragmented tourism resources into a common brand image, establish brand recognition for different regions and localities, and use these elements as the basis for international marketing to maximize market impact.
The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected the global tourism industry, and governments – including Taiwan’s – have been supplying emergency relief and making advance preparations for post-crisis revitalization of the tourism sector. As industry is also discussing future development strategies, this is likely the best time for joint consideration of how to best carry out the DMO program.
Effective implementation of the DMO model will need close cooperation among government agencies, civil society, and industry. However, this cooperation requires good communication channels. Following up this Committee’s recent discussions with the Tourism Bureau, we look forward to a government announcement of overall implementation rules as soon as possible, so that all relevant parties can contribute to the Taiwan tourism industry in the most efficient way.
At the same time, this approach can be used to solve the problem of limited manpower and funding at the local government level, encourage the development of local characteristics, help localities devise diverse and in-depth tourism-experience itineraries, and create unique marketing strategies for in-depth tourism.
Suggestion 3: Lay the groundwork for post-pandemic recovery in international tourism.
The sudden outbreak of COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on the tourism industry. Both domestic and foreign players have suffered major losses this year. However, the crisis can also serve as an opportunity to recalibrate for next steps. It will be important to use the current period productively to prepare for recovery in international tourism when the crisis has waned. We recommend that the authorities step up efforts to maintain close connections with international associations to strengthen international exchanges; begin planning to attract exhibitions of different themes to come to Taiwan; organize various types of training programs to cultivate domestic industry talent; prepare for future invitations to international organizations to come to Taiwan to share experiences; and begin reaching out to relevant international non-profit organizations to bring conferences and exhibitions to Taiwan.
Suggestion 4: Allow greater flexibility in tourism-related standardized contracts.
The government promotes the use of standardized contracts as a way to prevent consumer disputes, protect consumer rights, and promote fairness. The prevailing spirit is that in case of any doubt, the result should be one that is beneficial to the consumer. Such contracts have been widely adopted by industry due to the advantages of making the contracting process simple and fast, and avoiding the communication and time cost of individual contracts. And because the contract content is fixed, it can also be used for risk control and corporate contract management, while saving costs for businesses. For consumers, there is also the benefit of saving time and costs compared with individual contracts.
To avoid the unilateral abuse of contract terms and unfairness in the contract, the Taiwanese government has identified specific terminology that may or may not be used in standardized contracts for the tourism industry. In recent years, the government has strengthened international marketing in hopes of attracting more international tourists to Taiwan. The proportion of Taiwanese people going abroad has also increased year by year. Further, members of the Taiwanese tourism industry (including airlines, cruises, hotels, and travel agencies) are highly familiar with international practices regarding consumer protection.
In the wake of the recent COVID-19 outbreak, it has been necessary to make adjustments in many contractual arrangements. However, standardized contracts typically lack flexibility for emergency response and neither adequately protect the rights and interests of consumers nor consider the difficulties faced by the operators. The regulations governing use of standardized contracts in Taiwan’s tourism industry have undermined the right to contractual freedom, and may also deprive consumers of the opportunity to acquire equivalent tourism services at a more affordable price.
The Committee therefore urges reliance on commercial competition to serve the best interests of consumers, rather than limiting consumer rights in the name of consumer protection. Due to the fixed capacity of tourist services, international tourism business practice – in order to reduce operating pressure – allows the advance sale of products at a preferential price. Both sides benefit from the ability to plan ahead. Internationally, such special deals are generally offered on a non-refundable basis or postponement basis, but Taiwan has included a provision in the standardized contract that full refunds must be paid back to consumers in the event of such cancellations. That provision is actually detrimental to consumers by discouraging operators from offering such special packages.
The best solution would be to follow international business practice and allow the two parties to freely negotiate the terms of the deal.
We suggest inviting domestic and foreign industry representatives and academics to conduct a comprehensive review of the issue and come up with flexible terms that are in line with international practice and consistent with the characteristics of business operations and consumer protection. The outcome would contribute to Taiwan’s efforts to further promote its international tourism business, while protecting local interests and the domestic workforce.