Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Let there be Non-Chinese tourists....No tourist traps, please.

I come from a place infested with tourists. We Charlestonians have a very love-hate relationship with the tourists who, on the one hand, fuel our economy and, on the other, don't seem to have learned to look before they cross the street or realize that people actually live in the houses they just strolled into.


I mention this only, because I say what I'm about to say with great hesitation. I think it's important, but at the same time I have images in my head of hoards of tourists filling all the quiet places I'd rather keep to myself and to all of us "brave" enough to live here.

...Hey, just being honest....

I want Taroko, Alishan, Kenting, and Penghu to myself. Part of it, I'll admit, is taking delight in being one of comparatively few foreigners to have been somewhere. Makes me some sort of modern day adventurer. The other part of it is how peaceful a lot of these places are without the masses you'd find, say, at the Grand Canyon.

That said, if I were a member of the Taiwanese establishment responsible for tourism on the island, I would more or less ditch all of this mess about getting Chinese tourists come here. As I wrote a while back referencing an editorial from the Taipei Times:
I imagined Chinese tourists coming to the island and seeing how much of their history was almost lost, had it not been brought to Taiwan. [I know what you're thinking Michael, but I didn't mean it like that]

What I didn't consider is that more Chinese tourists meant an excuse for Taiwanese travel agencies to maintain shoddy service standards:

The Chen administration is spending enormous amounts of time and political capital on opening up tourism to a much larger number of Chinese tourists. Notwithstanding the bluster coming from some pan-green-camp politicians, there is little to be concerned about in terms of political or security considerations given how many "China shills" Taiwan produces without Beijing's prodding.

The bigger and more important question is why the tourism industry is so eager to secure the Chinese tourist dollar -- apparently at the expense of the rest of the world's travelers.

The answer is not very pleasant: Taiwan's tourism chiefs and entrepreneurs are lazy and incompetent and have filled the country with substandard facilities and poorly trained, monolingual staff.

Chinese tourists, accustomed to this laziness and incompetence -- and worse -- at home, will pose no problem for travel agencies except in demanding refunds from the most conspicuously shoddy operators.

More importantly, it never crossed my mind that if the Taiwanese government was more intent on attracting tourists from more developed countries, then perhaps the initial permitted stay would be bumped up to three months, meaning those of us who come to the island to stay for a little while wouldn't have to go through all of the rigamarole to lie and get a two month tourist visa:

The fact is that Taiwan has so much to offer to tourists from the rest of the world -- but the message is not getting through. Insufficient cash for overseas promotional work can be blamed, but only to a point.

There are other things that the government can and should do to destroy the absurd assumption that a larger Chinese market is going to make Taiwan more tourist-friendly.

One is to make visas free and extend them to three months (as with Hong Kong) for nationals of countries that pose no direct security threat to Taiwan.

Martial law finished 20 years ago; there are no good reasons to make tourists jump through hoops that simply exist to make Taiwan's overseas officers seem more important than they really are.

I bring this up again in light of a recent Zogby poll (pdf) that highlights the unsurprising truism that Americans (coming from Taiwan's, arguably, most constant ally) don't really know anything about Taiwan (only 6 percent very familiar with Taiwan, and 61 percent unfamiliar), and, if they do, it's probably because they thought you said Thailand.

It's no coincidence that (1) most foreigners who come to Taiwan love it and (2) most foreigners who come to Taiwan are more likely to pay attention to the daily happenings concerning the island, thus increasing their awareness of what's actually happening on the island.

This, I would think, would be Taiwan's greatest asset. Outside of the city, it's stunningly beautiful, the people are nice (unless you have an unfortunate run-in with the mafia). You don't have to deal with thought police, juntas, or xenophobia (or less so), unlike most other countries in Asia.

Taiwan is, after all, one of the freest countries in Asia.

Do not infer from the above that Taiwan is perfect -- far from it. The truth, I believe, is that you're much more likely to get robbed in Paris, New York, or Rome, than you in Taipei. You're more likely to have your camera confiscated in China, and you're more likely to get the crap kicked out of you in London.

Taiwan desperately needs to increase awareness around the world, and one of the easiest things (it seems to me) that it could do is to mount a huge tourism initiative that will focus on bringing more Western tourists to the island.

Taiwan has a lot to offer:
  1. It's small. In a country a little smaller than the Netherlands, it's easily navigable, with beautiful beaches, lush mountains, and flat plains. There's Taroko Gorge (my videos), Alishan, and tons of other little towns in between.
  2. It's cheap(er than a lot of places). Almost anywhere in Taiwan, you can eat a good meal for about US$3, if you're willing to eat Asian fair, if not, you'll be spending between six and ten bucks US.
  3. It's easy to travel. There are trains (including the new High-Speed trains), buses, and highways.
  4. Most people under, say, forty speak English. They may not always speak it well, but more often than not they won't be too timid to try. Whereas in Korea or Japan -- especially the former -- they might only speak English begrudgingly.
The fact that Taiwan hasn't, that I know of, hired some Western PR firms and mounted a tourist campaign in the US and Europe really surprises me. It seems that the best way to rectify the general lack of knowledge around the world towards Taiwan would be to get people over here. Right now, everyone wants to come to Asia, but unless they're coming to teach, I don't many people ever consider Taiwan, mostly because it doesn't even come to mind.

26 comments:

  1. well don't know where the funding came from, but I have seen a few video's on youtube promoting Taiwan as a holiday destination.

    I've noticed there are a lot more foreigners in Taiwan now compared to a year and a half ago when I was last here. I hope they are not giving me a bad name ;).

    In Taipei I was really surprised, I counted something like 50, and in Tainan I saw 10 or so on the one street I walked down.

    so is this a good or bad thing? I'm not sure, I hope its a good thing.

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  2. Hah, a great post man, and spot on about Charleston and tourists. Though I have to say that town's spirit has been killed by them. When I was a kid and there were far fewer, things were distinctly more "local." More Charleston, esp. downtown...Now my hometown is a big friggin outdoor shopping mall! They sold it to Foot Locker, Body Shop, Starbucks, and co.

    Anyways, as I think you probably know by now, the reason Taiwan isn't rolling out the red carpet to get the Westerners to come here is that we're afraid we can't speak English well enough. And that's both true and not, actually.

    It's true in that there really don't appear to be any English-speaking natives (i.e., foreigners) employed in the government to go and get tourist business in the west. Naturally, most of this should be done by the embassies and "cultural affairs offices", but these are notoriously slack at promoting Taiwan abroad. One of my European friends who works with the Taiwan cultural affairs office in his country often complains that the employees are all linguistic idiots and Blue to the ears, and simply don't want to promote Taiwan to other nations in any case. Sure, Taiwan is stymied in not having a real foot in these countries, but I think its sad that Taiwan seems to be doing nothing in places like Germany. Germans travel more outside of Europe than anyone else, and I'm sure lots would like to come here but (when I lived there a few years ago) there were literally no ads for Taiwan tourist deals to be found. And they fly to Cuba all the friggin time!

    Yeah, so for the "it's not true that language is hindering them" part. I've noted many times that Taiwanese people are always thinking that, to us laowai, a trip to Taiwan must be like a trip to the moon. Srsly, why do you think they're smiling when they see you walking down the road? They're thinking--"look, a lost foreigner. Wonder where he's going?"

    I think this provincialism is both kinda cute and kinda pitiful at the same time. Pitiful because they can't imagine you'd be curious enough about their country to actually know where the hell you're going; cute because I know like hell if they ever visited my country they'd be on one of those big travel buses. (Actually, I had an SC friend who speaks not a single word of Chinese come visit me some time ago and he got along fine without any guide at all most of the time. I tell my Taiwanese people about how he just used English, a Lonely Planet, and a map around Taipei (in the pre-MRT days) and they're all completely amazed...). Plus, from what I know about our friends in the buxibans, you can actually get along in Taiwan without a smittering Chinese...

    So, you're 100% right and I've always wondered why Taiwan doesn't just try to promote itself as a tourist site in the so-called West. These are the only things I can think of. Lack of self-confidence and lack of self-confidence.

    I'll stop being politic now and say I think it's damn stupid for politicians to talk about allowing 1 million tourists a year into Taiwan (as Ma has)--and say Hsieh is a dumbass for riding that bandwagon. Facing "really" foreign tourists (and talking to them in English/German/French) would do Taiwan a world of good.

    That is all.

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  3. Asi,

    I've seen the videos too, and all but one that I've seen are HORRIBLE. That's what I mean, they need to hire a good PR firm to make these commercials.

    I'm sure there are a lot more foreigners here than before, and I also believe that that fact will contribute to an amelioration of Taiwan's status, but I don't think it's enough.

    ....and of course, just like in any group, some foreigners here are just idiots who want to get wasted every night and don't give a crap about Taiwan. Others enjoy learning about Taiwan and don't care much about the political situation. While the rest of us are intensely interested.

    Nostalgiphile, you're right, Charleston sadly has turned into a tourist trap. Kiawah, Mount Pleasant, Wadmalaw, etc. have all been developed. Downtown has become a circus (though that does make it more fun at times). Old bookstores and local restaurants have given way to Barnes and Nobles and chain restaurants.

    It's not all bad, but it's certainly not great. Traffic is horrible, locals are moving out, because they're houses are worth so much and rich people are buying summer houses.

    It's a bummer.

    That said. I agree with what you said about Taiwan.

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  4. It's not a problem of promotion.

    Taiwan is an ideal destination for EFL teachers. The pay is good compared to other places, living expenses are relatively low, and it's not the xenophobic hell-hole that Korea and Saudi Arabia are.

    For tourism, however, the picture's a bit different. It's far more expensive to come to Taiwan than it is to go to mainland China, and we don't have anything like Yangshou, Xi'an, the Forbidden Palace, or the Great Wall. Thailand, Vietnam, and a number of other places also offer far more bang for the tourism buck than Taiwan does for westerners. Why would they want to pay twice as much to come here, for a more westernized, less remarkable experience? The Japanese and the Chinese are the main tourist markets to focus on.

    Taiwan's best bet would be to try to accommodate business people and long term foreign residents. Opening direct flights to Shanghai would make Taiwan a possible outpost for foreign businesses. Adopting standard pinyin would make the adjustment easier for business people, students and immigrants alike. Letting residents do simple things such as get debit cards or normal cell phone plans would make Taiwan more attractive to just about everyone. I can't say how disappointed I was that I could do both of those things my second day in Shanghai as a tourist, but not here even after over four years as a resident. Your suggestions for liberalizing visa requirements would also be a good step.

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  5. Maybe you have a point Mark.

    Yet, I don't think that negates the argument that Taiwan could do a lot more to draw a lot more tourists. Sure, maybe it can't draw the kinds of tourists that the Great Wall or the Forbidden City can, but it can certainly bring more tourists than it does.

    Taiwan's attractions are so much man-made as they are natural escapes. Now, I've never been to Thailand, so correct me if I'm wrong, but Thailand doesn't exactly have a great wall or a Forbidden Temple. Sure, it's got beautiful temples, but so does Taiwan. Both places have beautiful landscapes that bring people to relax.

    Am I wrong?

    About pinyin, God, would that be great if they decided to standardize the romanizations, using pinyin! It would also help those learning Chinese....

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  6. Taiwan is definitely East Asia's best kept secret. Most countries in this part of the world don't have a Yangshou, Xi'an, Forbidden Palace or Great Wall, yet they seem to have little trouble in attracting the Western visitor. To suggest that Taiwan shouldn't bother and just concentrate on the Chinese or Japanese market is simply ridiculous.

    Poor promotion is a major part of the problem. So is a lack of imagination when it comes to tourism-related efforts once visitors are in the country. Why is there no rail pass to allow tourists to get around the island quickly and easily? Why haven't the tourism authorities set up a system online that provides various accommodation options to prospective visitors, and allows them to make reservations online? Why aren't there more tourist information offices set up around major train and bus stations, with information available in a variety of languages such as English, Japanese and Korean? It sad, but the will just doesn't seem to be there.

    The powers-that-be here seem to think paying for posters in New York will help end Taiwan's isolation. A better strategy might be to get more tourists over here to experience Taiwan for themselves, so that they can go back to their respective countries and spread the word.

    I wouldn't worry too much about Taiwan's pristine spots being overrun by hordes of tourists. It's already happening - the hordes are locals! If only I had a free weekday set aside for travel...

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  7. I think you're right, Robert. Thailand doesn't have the same tourism draw as China. By some estimates, China has already displaced the US as the #3 destination behind France and Spain. However, Thailand is very cheap, and Taiwan isn't. It's also part of the mainland Asian continent, which makes it much more convenient for backpackers who want to hit a lot of spots than Taiwan is.

    I've tried hard to get various western friends to come here, and the main barrier was pretty much always bang for the buck. Most western tourists don't want a shopping trip with a tour group and aren't so impressed by 101 or malls. My friends back home at least, want to see someplace different- different clothes, different architecture, and not a 7-11 on every corner. The people I've know who have lived here, love the westerization, though.

    Kaminoge, I fear you'll take this as a plunge from the comfortable ledge of ridiculousness right into the abyss of insanity, buuuuut... I don't think tourism should be a major focus at all- not even one directed at Asians (who will outnumber western tourists). I'd much rather see a bio-tech industry than a tourism industry here.

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  8. Mark,

    My question to you is why does it have to be a choice? Why can't Taiwan have both a healthy tourism industry and a bio-tech industry? The economy is certainly large enough that it doesn't have to rely on a single industry. This isn't a zero-sum game here.

    As for attracting Asian tourists, Taiwan's promotion efforts in the Japanese market are just as pathetic as those aimed at Westerners. The reason so many Japanese visit here is due to the efforts of Japanese tour operators like JTB to promote package tours to Taiwan (geographical proximity and the relative lack of WWII-related animosity among Taiwanese also help).

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  9. I also don't understand why Taiwan can't have both....

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  10. "My question to you is why does it have to be a choice? Why can't Taiwan have both a healthy tourism industry and a bio-tech industry? The economy is certainly large enough that it doesn't have to rely on a single industry. This isn't a zero-sum game here.

    Sure, an economy's not a zero-sum game. I'm not sure if you're talking about policy decisions or tourism industry decisions, but as I'm sure you know, government funds are limited. More investment in one area means less in another. Raising taxes so that it's possible to invest more in both areas has a dampening effect on the entire economy. With limited funds, each investment has to be considered in terms of ROI, and tourism promotion falls far behind basic infrastructure, education and business development, which all have enormous positive externalities.

    If your post is advice for the tourist industry, then sure, let some companies give it a try. However, I'd be willing to bet heavily that the returns on marketing to Asian tourists will far outstrip the returns on marketing to westerners. In a sense, I already have made that bet by investing in CTrip (which has a stake in EZTravel).

    http://www.china.org.cn/english/travel/131383.htm

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  11. "More investment in one area means less in another."

    I'm not so sure that is the case when it comes to government budgetary allocations. But for the sake of argument, let's assume that's true. There must be any number of programs receiving government largesse that have outlived their usefulness. Shifting funds from these areas to something like a national tourism promotion policy shouldn't leave state coffers empty for other vital spending programs.

    As for ROI, are you saying tourism doesn't provide that? One of the few bright spots in Taiwan's economy in recent years has been the boom in the leisure industry brought about by the introduciton of a reduced work week (despite the cries of alarm from the captains of industry at the time). Wouldn't an increase in the number of foreign visitors to Taiwan result in further growth, providing more jobs and generating greater tax revenues (think hotel taxes and hot spring taxes, for one)? If ROI is comparativley low, why do countries such as Malaysia and South Korea spend so much money on tourist promotion? Are they doing so at the expense of things like basic infrastructure (though it would be nice if we could drink tap water in Taiwan), education and business development?

    I'm tempted to use the word "ridiculous" again, because why would any astute business person or government official ignore a market of over one billion affluent consumers (the combined populations of North America and the European Union)?

    There are other benefits, of course, that can't be measuered by the inexact science of economics. The more foreigners who visit Taiwan, be they from Asian (non-Chinese) countries or Western ones, the greater profile Taiwan would have internationally.

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  12. "There must be any number of programs receiving government largesse that have outlived their usefulness. Shifting funds from these areas to something like a national tourism promotion policy shouldn't leave state coffers empty for other vital spending programs".

    This is sloppy thinking. Reducing "government largess" and increasing tourism spending are two separate actions. The first one is undoubtedly good, the second is not.

    "I'm tempted to use the word 'ridiculous' again, because why would any astute business person or government official ignore a market of over one billion affluent consumers (the combined populations of North America and the European Union)?"

    Taiwan isn't ignoring those people. Over 75 billion dollars is being spent just on the tourism portion of the Challenge 2008 program. A huge part of that has been creating English language promotional and service materials. How much do you think should be spent of tourism promotion? Also, where is the logic in spending more resources chasing those "billion westerners" you want here, when even more people who are interested in coming and would be receptive to promotions live right next door?

    When looking at ROI, it's naive to think that positive number, no matter how small, is a success. I didn't say that government spending on tourism wouldn't bring in anything. I said that it was a poor investment choice. Remember, there are diminishing returns with these kinds of things. The first $75 billion will certainly get more tourists than a second $75 billion would, and even with no government investment at all, companies would still do promotions.

    For a third world country, such as Malaysia or Guatemala, tourism is often an excellent investment, and it makes for a cheap travel destination, too. For Korea... they spend too much on tourism, too. It's probably more about pride than what's best for the public.

    In contrast, your example of tap water is exactly the kind of thing that does need more government subsidies. Private companies aren't going to fix the water system, but improving it would be a truly universal benefit that would help the economy, national health, and especially the environment.

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  13. Is that “sloppy thinking” on my part, Mark, or sloppy reading on yours? You’re the one who wrote that more investment by the government in one area meant less in another, whereas I doubted that was the case.

    Let’s follow your line of reasoning then using my “sloppy thinking”. Taiwan is spending 75 billion dollars (US $2.3 billion) on the tourism portion of the Challenge 2008 program? According to you, that’s 75 billion dollars less being spent on other areas. So Mark, what are these areas, and how much as been cut from their budgets in 2008 to pay for tourism? This kind of reasoning is probably “sloppy”, as thanks to the miracle of deficit spending, governments usually don’t operate this way.

    Therefore, that 75 billion dollars would’ve been invested in other areas had it not been earmarked for tourism, right? So, can you pinpoint on a factual basis exactly where those funds would’ve been earmarked? Biotech? Water purification? Or is more likely conjecture as to where the money might have gone?

    So Taiwan is spending money on attracting Western visitors. The issue then should be is that money being spent efficiently, as opposed to should it be spent at all, which is what you’re suggesting. As has been commented on previously in this thread, the government’s promotion videos are “horrible”. That 75 billion dollars could be money wisely spent if it were being used by people who had a better clue as to what to do with it.

    Of course, in your black-and-white view of economics, Taiwan should be spending that money on the “people who are interested in coming and would be receptive to promotions (who) live right next door”. I assume you’re referring to the Chinese market, because I have yet to see any good examples of what the authorities are doing to court the Japanese. Again, I don’t why Taiwan can’t be trying to attract everyone (Westerners, Chinese, Japanese etc.) as part of a well-funded and well-run promotion policy, but you insist on looking at things as a choice between A or B. For the moment, however, let’s assume the choice is between attracting Chinese or the rest of the world. From a simple monetary standpoint, it would make more sense to concentrate solely on the huge market next door. But what about the political considerations? If the government wants to raise Taiwan’s profile internationally, it would seem counter-productive to throw most (if not all) one’s eggs into the Chinese basket, thus tying the two economies closer together and blurring the distinctions between Taiwan and China in the eyes of the rest of the world. A pro-blue supporter might welcome a huge influx of Chinese tourists as leading to the creation of a Greater China, but those who desire Taiwan to have a distinct identity of its own might have reservations.

    As for ROI, what would you consider to be a reasonable rate of return on the money spent for attracting tourists? Call me “naïve” (oops, you already did), but what about job creation? Or increased tax revenues? Or secondary spending on things like basic infrastructure that result from making improvements to existing tourist facilities, as well as building new ones?

    Mark, I am impressed. Not only are you knowledgeable on matters related to China and Taiwan, but your areas of expertise also extend into Korean economics and sociology. They “spend too much on tourism too”? So what aspects of the Korean economy are suffering because of this? After all, money spent on the KNTO is less money the government there is investing in other areas, right? And “(i)t’s probably more about pride than what’s best for the (Korean) public”? You’re probably right, the money brought in by foreign visitors, and the resultant effects of new jobs being created and money being spent on infrastructure isn’t helping anyone there.

    I can't blame them, though. It’s going to be a while before the South Koreans can choose to ignore the rest of the world and welcome their free-spending neighbors from the north.

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  14. I'll try one more time to explain this succinctly.

    Money has the same spending value regardless of its source. It's a common fallacy to believe that "found money" is somehow cheaper than other money, or that "money already in the pot" is especially worth spending more on.

    If less money is spend in one area, either more money can be spent on another area or taxes can be lowered. There truly is no such thing as "free" money, even if it is diverted away from a more wasteful allocation.

    Here's a simple analogy. Assume a person has a habit of wasting $10,000 a year buying lottery tickets. Now suppose this person decides to put the $10,000 a year into buying baseball cards, instead of lottery tickets. By thinking of the baseball cards only in comparison to the lottery tickets, this hypothetical person might think that it was a good investment. The truth is, he'd do better in the long run by spending the $10,000 on neither the lottery tickets or the baseball cards and putting it into high-yielding investments.

    Finally, I don't see this as a black and white, yes or no issue. What I'm saying is, the amount of resources that should be spent on various things. I think the majority should be spent where it will generate the most benefit.

    Finally, I don't believe in sacrificing the public good for political considerations, especially considering how much doing that has hurt us in recent years.

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  15. Mark,

    Please spare us the Econ 101 lessons (I also took Intro to Macro and Micro in college). Instead of the analogies you remember from your textbooks, how about a tangible, concrete real-life example that proves how Taiwan is squandering its resources on tourist promotion at the expense of other, more "vital" industries. Until you can produce an example of someone crying about how their project to promote biotechnology, for example, has been shortchanged by the government's tourist promotion budget, your arguments supporting your point-of-view will remain conjectural and divorced from the facts on the ground.

    "I don't see this as a black and white, yes or no issue."
    If that's the case, why do insist on reducing everything to a choice between two things, be it biotech vs. tourism, or Chinese tourists vs. Western ones?

    "What I'm saying is, the amount of resources that should be spent on various things. I think the majority should be spent where it will generate the most benefit."
    I don't disagree with you on the amount being spent. Personally, I think less should be allocated to the promotion efforts, and more for building up the infrastructure to support them. After all, what's the point in attracting visitors to Taiwan if they then have to put up with inadequate facilities and tourist services? But wouldn't investment like this also be of great benefit to the Taiwanese populace as well?

    "I don't believe in sacrificing the public good for political considerations"
    Who does? But how exactly will concentrating on the Chinese tourist market at the expense of others be to the best benefit of the Taiwanese public? Seeing as you like investment analogies so much, wouldn't it be more sensible to diversify one's portfolio (US dollar, British pound, Euro, and Japanese yen, in addition to the yuan)?

    BTW, I wonder how Malaysians would feel knowing their country is on the same level economically as Guatemala :)

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  16. "...how about a tangible, concrete real-life example that proves how Taiwan is squandering its resources on tourist promotion at the expense of other, more "vital" industries. Until you can produce an example of someone crying about how their project to promote biotechnology, for example, has been shortchanged by the government's tourist promotion budget, your arguments supporting your point-of-view will remain conjectural and divorced from the facts on the ground.
    ...
    If that's the case, why do insist on reducing everything to a choice between two things, be it biotech vs. tourism, or Chinese tourists vs. Western ones?"


    I just mentioned bio-tech development in passing once and replied to your comments afterwards. I'm certainly not trying to imply that tourism is tied directly to biotech. I don't have any mass of research to back up what I'm saying about the tourism, either.

    I would, however, be willing to bet anything up to a month of my salary, that over the next 3, 5 or 10 years, the ROI of Taiwan tourism marketing directed at China will be at least a quarter again as high as that directed at the US or Europe. I suppose you could take my confidence as either a sign that I've researched the market or as zealous but unreasoned conviction.

    As for other ideas of how to spend money, I'm not a big government guy. I'm not really looking for places to spend money (though the water and transportation systems could benefit). I would much rather run the government at a surplus and then lower taxes. In a sense, you could say that an excessive tourism (or any other) budget shortchanges every person and business on the island, indirectly. I don't really want to see any direct subsidies towards a bio-tech park or anything like that. Maybe some for higher education or basic research, but that's a different topic.

    P.S. As a foreigner, though, I really don't feel it's my place to advocate any particular politics here, unless they relate to foreigner's rights or romanization or something like that. Tourism and the economy fall vaguely into that category, but this discussion has moved into territory I'm not too comfortable debating publicly.

    P.P.S. I took three years of econ classes, but my examples were more related to my study of poker than any particular textbook.

    P.P.P.S. I'm not a fan of portfolio or company diversification. I think Peter Lynch had it right when he called it "diworseification". How good can I expect my 20th best idea to be? How good can a company expect its 20th best division to be?

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  17. "As a foreigner, though, I really don't feel it's my place to advocate any particular politics here"

    In general, I agree with you. However, seeing as I pay taxes, and my wife and child both have ROC citizenship, I do feel I'm entitled to my 2 cents' worth at times.

    "I would, however, be willing to bet anything up to a month of my salary, that over the next 3, 5 or 10 years, the ROI of Taiwan tourism marketing directed at China will be at least a quarter again as high as that directed at the US or Europe."

    I don't disagree. However, as is often the case with Taiwan, there is a political element to consider. Is it in the best interests of Taiwan as an independent political entity to tie itself so closely to the Chinese market? Or will Chinese tourists one day be visiting Taipei, capital of the Taiwan Special Administrative Region?

    To paraphrase Clemenceau, economics is too important to be left to the economists.

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  18. We obviously have different political ideas, but I'll share my view:

    Taiwan doesn't have a relations problem with Europe. It's barely beginning to develop one with the US. The real relations problem is with China, and I can't think of anything that would help that more than having the young, educated, influential future leaders of China coming here and seeing the real Taiwan for themselves. If Taiwan can win them over, then it's a win for everyone. If not, then foreign interference will only escalate tensions and make things worse.

    I say, let them come to Taiwan, see it, tell their friends back home about it and blog about it. More connections, more trade and more friendships are the way to make the world a more peaceful place for our entire race.

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  19. Mark,

    Your sentiments are sincere, but frankly speaking, naive. Thousands of Chinese have been visiting and seeing Tibet, and have things improved for the people there? On the contrary, the distinctive elements of Tibetan culture are fast disappearing as the Chinese absorb the country into their empire.

    Decades of propaganda about "One China", combined with the virulent nationalism always present in Chinese society, will not be overcome by opening the gates to Taiwan. By all means let the tourists come, but don't expect them to have any sudden epiphanies about the realities of Sino-Taiwanese relations.

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  20. Wow. Of all the posts I've written. I never would have anticipated that it would be this one that would garner so many comments!

    I appreciate all the information y'all.

    I'd like to echo, Mark, what Kaminoge said about Chinese tourists not being likely to have any epiphanies about Taiwan.

    I mentioned that in one of my previous posts that I linked to in this post. We had many Chinese friends in Paris, and I did see that after they sat down and talked and enjoyed themselves with Taiwanese people, they seemed to come away with a much different view over Taiwan. Yet, how many Chinese are going to come to Taiwan and sit down over a huoguo with a group of Taiwanese people.

    They'll come on organized trips, and they won't venture out of their groups (for the most part).

    Without getting a personal knowledge of Taiwanese people, seeing them as people, rather than a part of a group that belong to me, I doubt a trip to Taiwan will change much.

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  21. I've known some Chinese people who have come here and really found a lot of things different than they'd thought of, or things they'd never thought of at all. A couple of popular underground Chinese bloggers have written about their Taiwan experiences, too. Just think of the effect if people like Pingke or Feizhu came here. I think you guys may be underestimating that segment of Chinese society.

    Sure, there are limits to what Chinese tourists, as opposed to students studying abroad, will experience. Still, I really doubt western tourists get out of their groups and mingle with locals any more than Chinese who come here.

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  22. Mark wrote:

    "I really doubt western tourists get out of their groups and mingle with locals any more than Chinese who come here."

    That might be true (though many westerners travel solo, and not as part of organized tours), but then again, most westerners aren't taught (brainwashed?) that Taiwan is a part of China that must be "reunited with the motherland" by any means, including military force.

    It's unfortunate, but the very people who do need to break away from the tour groups and get to know the locals (the Chinese) are also the least likely to do so.

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  23. Mark,

    Like I mentioned, I sympathize with that viewpoint that Chinese people (since they are humans with the same reasoning capabilities as anyone else) could change their view of Taiwan by coming here.

    I saw it happen in Paris. I know it's possible.

    Yet, as far as how often it happens, I doubt the percentage would be that high. For one thing, I've read that one reason there are still restrictions on Chinese tourists coming to America is that the US will not promise the Chinese government not to let Chinese tourists visit certain locales. This is the sort of agreement many European countries have entered into with China so that Chinese tourists can come spend money there.

    I would imagine that for Chinese tourists to come to Taiwan would face the same sort of restrictions. I could be wrong, but, if its a prerequisite for travel to Europe, it seems logical that it would be the same (if not much more strict) for Taiwan.

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  24. Anonymous10:45 PM

    "One is to make visas free and extend them to three months (as with Hong Kong) for nationals of countries that pose no direct security threat to Taiwan."

    I agree with this statement, I think charging for visas is completely ridiculous. But this isn't unique to Taiwan, sadly. I'm Australian and our government feels they have the right to charge for visas as well. A friend of mine had to pay close to $800 just to renew his visa (that's including paying for mandatory procedures such as a full body medical examination - wtf?). AND he had to borrow that money from me because he was in such deep shit and didn't know where else to get the money in time, and the Australian government isn't tolerant of visa holders unless they have money.

    The Taiwanese government is probably more hospitable than the Australian one. The difference is that one claims to be friendly and the other doesn't. You decide.

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  25. Anonymous10:49 PM

    Btw...perhaps it's not just the Australian government charging ridiculous amounts for visas - Europe, anyone? But I don't live in Europe so I don't know. My suspicion is that they do worse than Taiwan.

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  26. I lived in France twice, and I went through the visa renewal process with Fanfan, and the costs were nothing like the $800 you mentioned. If I remember correctly, the visa was around 100euros (which might be about $800 by now, but it wasn't at the time).

    The process was more taxing on our psyches than it was on our wallets. The French took great care in making it the most frustrating and uncertain process possible.

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