The majority of experts surveyed by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) expect international tourism to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023/2024. To ensure that Taiwan is well-prepared for that business revival, it will be vital to engage in serious self-reflection and devise practical plans to raise the competitiveness of the domestic tourism industry to new levels.
The pending reorganization of the Ministry of Transportation and Communication (which will include expansion of its Tourism Bureau into a Tourism Administration), plus the expected formation of the Ministry of Digital Development, should all help in that regard. We are also encouraged by the Tourism Bureau’s bold vision – “building a country through tourism” – as outlined in its Taiwan Tourism 2030 White Paper. Besides the expansion of the Tourism Bureau, we welcome the plan to reference the Japanese and South Korean models by establishing an independent administrative body to manage international tourism marketing. Though funded by the government, it will be managed as a corporation to allow flexibility, creativity, and diversity.
The Committee again cautions that adherence to outdated rules and practices is not the way to attract more travelers or a higher quality of travelers. Even with the expected Tourism Bureau expansion and creation of the independent administrative body to focus on international marketing, the government will need a broader strategy to spur business growth and cross-sector discussion among government agencies to diversify business opportunities. An open-minded and creative approach is needed, as opposed to just adhering to traditional notions of tourism products and services or rejecting ideas and innovations that don’t fit neatly into the existing laws and bureaucratic structure.
To make Taiwan the pre-eminent post-COVID travel destination, the Committee urges the authorities to focus on these objectives:
Remove the burden of administrative red tape from existing tourism products and services;
Refer to wider international best practices to facilitate tourism-industry business management and operations;
Adopt technology and digitalization across products and services;
Commit to a clear and sensible marketing strategy that aligns with national policy and is allowed time to develop; and
Embrace a proactive business-minded approach that dares to explore and innovate, rather than merely protect what currently exists.
Suggestion 1: Develop a unified, targeted marketing strategy for tourism through communication with industry and across government agencies.
The post-COVID landscape will surely bring new challenges, such as how to accommodate vaccine passports and other screening policies (see the Technology Committee section). For the tourism industry to succeed in the new environment, there will need to be targeted marketing campaigns aimed at specific types of travelers that the government wishes to attract. Also needed will be an overarching marketing strategy that goes beyond the confines of the core tourism industries outlined in the Act for the Development of Tourism (Tourism Act) and instead connects with other government agencies and private organizations during the planning stages of non-tourism initiatives.
Take the MICE sector (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions) as an example. While much of the promotion and development of Taiwan’s MICE industry has been actualized through initiatives (such as “Meet Taiwan”) sponsored by the Bureau of Foreign Trade of the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), it should not be left to MOEA to subsidize and market this important sector on its own while the tourism authority focuses only on the traditional tourism industry.
The Tourism Bureau also has an important role to play as an integrator and coordinator. Watching for new business trends in areas outside of traditional tourism, it can seek ways to turn these into tourism opportunities and then devise appropriate marketing strategies and policies. For trending industries offering high economic potential, the Tourism Bureau can take the lead in carrying out marketing campaigns to attract international meetings, trade shows, and other business events to Taiwan. As the world recovers from the pandemic and the government sets priorities for reaching its goal of attracting 20 million international visitors a year by 2030, the policymakers should keep in mind that MICE travelers invariably spend much more than leisure travelers.
A similar suggestion can be applied in Taiwan’s regional revitalization efforts. Government agencies have encouraged various measures aimed at rejuvenating rural or remote areas suffering from the outward migration of younger people. The Committee fully supports the government’s commitment to tackle this problem by enhancing local services and upgrading infrastructure, as well as improving tourism and cultural assets in order to share the variety of unique local culture in Taiwan with international visitors.
Although significant progress has been made, the Committee also notes opportunities for greater synergy. For example, while the National Development Council (NDC) officially designated 2019 as Taiwan’s “First Year of the Regional Revitalization Era,” the Tourism Bureau also promoted it as the first year of the “Taiwan Small Town Ramble,” and at the same time the Ministry of Culture was sponsoring a “Spotlight Taiwan.” Better coordination and cooperation across government agencies would undoubtedly make such initiatives more successful, combining the best of rural revitalization, local culture, and tourism.
The Committee suggests creation of a mechanism to foster inter-ministerial coordination for the purpose of better achieving Taiwan’s tourism potential.
Suggestion 2: Return DMOs to their original purpose as a marketing tool for reaching global markets.
In the 2020 White Paper, we proposed the development of Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs). Last year, NT$200 million (about US$7 million) was set aside for this purpose. We applaud the tangible steps taken by the Tourism Bureau to establish DMOs to better promote Taiwan. At the same time, we understand that COVID-19 has forced changes to the government’s original plans, and that resources need to be applied to immediate needs.
Given those circumstances, we offer a word of caution based on our observations that the short- term environment may result in local DMO organizations simply competing with one another for domestic tourism business. Our original expectation for the DMO program was to integrate regional tourism resources to create a common brand image, while also establishing brand recognition and differentiation among various regions and localities. The ultimate aim was to market Taiwan to the international community.
The Committee hopes to see the formation of a consistent communication channel between industry members and the relevant government agencies and organizations, such as the leading scenic-site management offices. The aim would be to share short-term, mid-term, and long-term strategies on how to attract domestic and international tourists, as well as to share industry trends, experiences, and best practices. Means will also need to be found to strengthen the chain of support from the central government to local communities.
Taiwan will be competing with other international DMOs for the initial new wave of tourists. The degree of early success in recapturing international tourists to Taiwan will be a critical benchmark.
The Committee suggests setting up a channel for efficient communication between industry members and government agencies to share digital marketing efforts and trend studies in tourism.
Suggestion 3: Reimagine tourism possibilities in preparation for the post-COVID market.
COVID-19 has taught us that flexibility and innovation are necessary for businesses to survive and flourish, and tourism is a sector that especially relies on its ability to respond during difficult times. Surveys have shown that the first post-COVID trips people plan to take are likely to be to reconnect with friends and family in places they regard as safe. More people will be interested in smaller destinations, as opposed to large cities, and after being cooped up at home for so long, they will be looking for new experiences. Unless it allows flexibility and innovation by offering alternative tourism products and services, Taiwan will be at a competitive disadvantage against its neighboring countries.
The Committee applauds the hard work by both the Tourism Bureau and the NDC to develop such new experiences such as the “Rural Ecological Experience,” the “Indigenous Cultural Experience,” and the “Tea Production and Research Curriculum,” which were all announced by the NDC in August, 2019. We urge the Taiwan government to explore more such possibilities, pushing the boundaries further and conducting pilot projects to test new models of tourism experience. New ideas born from such experimentation will generate insights that can be incorporated into future amendments of the Tourism Act.
Digitalization is also important for the tourism sector. For example, the ability to make and receive payments digitally will be crucial for survival in a post-pandemic business environment where direct contact is minimized. But smaller-scale hotels, hostels, travel agencies, tour operators, and countless micro-entrepreneurs may find it challenging to make that transition. They will need guidance to identify and evaluate the various cost-effective digital-payment solutions that can unlock new value.
Returning to the MICE example, virtual meetings and webinars are being deployed before the border has re-opened to bring new solutions in as familiar a setting as possible. Looking forward to the planned establishment of the Ministry of Digital Development (see the Digital Economy Committee section for more details), we hope the tourism authorities will take advantage of all available resources to accelerate digital transformation for both the core tourism industries and tourism regulation.
At the same time, a number of critical issues raised in previous years’ White Papers still need to be resolved. These include modifying the content of tourism-related standardized contracts to enable the industry to meet diverse consumer needs (such as providing early bird discount programs or non-refundable advance sales at preferential prices), reconsidering consumer dispute mechanisms to reflect the current market landscape, and devising more effective policies to attract, train, and retain hospitality-industry professionals. Progress in these areas will contribute to a healthier tourism ecosystem as Taiwan prepares for the post-COVID era, enabling Taiwan to be more competitive against other countries in the region who are adopting new marketing strategies and deregulating their tourism policies.
In addition to those directly involved in the tourism industry, the Committee suggests that the Tourism Bureau consult with companies whose expertise goes beyond the traditional notions of tourism business (such as foreign trade or digital platforms) for discussions on new products, experiences, and policy ideas.