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'Time for Taiwan' gears up to cater to overseas visitors

Nearly three million foreign visitors set foot in Taiwan in the first five months of this year, including nearly half of travelers from various ethnic Chinese countries such as mainland China, Hong-Kong and Macau.

According to Director-General David W.J. Hsieh (謝謂君) of the Tourism Bureau under the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (交通部觀光局), the soaring number of foreign visitors this year is the result of an increasing number of transportation options around the island and between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Direct flights, buses, high ways, High Speed Rail (HSR), etc. have allowed for more and more attractions to be discovered and drawn people's attention to what's fun in Taiwan, he said. The latter is also at the center of the Tourism Bureau's new motto, “Time for Taiwan” (旅行台灣就是現在), aimed at building Taiwan's image as a prime destination for dining, culture, LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) and shopping, and its last-ditch efforts to turn the country's tourism sector into the next NT$10 billion industry. Not such a silly idea after all.

By offering travel information tailored especially to their interests, Taiwan authorities are poised to attract more tourists searching for a unique experience on the island. For instance, the recently discovered military relics left by Japanese suicide boat Shinyo (震洋特攻隊) in Penghu (澎湖) during World War II, or the Lishan Guesthouse (梨山賓館) of former President Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), are more relevant to some foreigners than the Shilin Night Market (士林夜市), Wufenpu Garment Wholesale Area(五分埔) or Ximending District (西門町). For once, we have to admit that marketing strategies based on the unique stories of visitors is a big step forward for Taiwan's tourism sector.

In addition to collecting local history and incorporating it into marketing Taiwan, Hsieh wants to build a friendlier environment for camera-wielding travelers. “To make our environment friendly for tourists, we have to think from a foreign visitor's point of view,” he said in a recent interview with The China Post. Again, the tourism chief is right in pushing for local governments to improve the spelling of road signs in the countryside that often confuses non-Chinese-speaking people.

There's no problem anymore with signs for popular attractions or directions on National Highways, but the Tourism Bureau needs to provide local authorities with enough resources to give the whole nation a tourist-friendly environment. Since most people nowadays use smartphones for directions and information, the bureau was well inspired to develop a series of mobile applications for both Android and iPhone users.

Among other apps, the Green Backpack (綠背包) offers 15 themed itineraries for traveling Taiwan's East Coast. Also, the Go Go Biker (踩踩卡打車) is a game that encourages users to get around while passing through different levels. The next level only opens when you arrive at the spot. Such apps offer useful information ranging from tips on various attractions, to nearby accommodation and dining options and transportation and shopping recommendations.

If you are not familiar with Taiwan, the bureau also named the island's Ten Best Tourist Towns, inviting visitors to learn more about local people's lives. The result was reached by combining votes cast by Taiwan residents (20 percent of the final score) with scores by a panel of undercover experts who conducted field research in the towns (80 percent).

As for transportation, the Tourism Bureau also recommends the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle (台灣好行) service, which takes passengers to attractions island-wide through 22 routes. These shuttles take passengers from train stations, metro stations or high-speed rail stations directly to scenic spots, making them a perfect choice for visitors traveling without their own vehicle. Now, you don't have any more excuses to stay home. You should get ready to enjoy your “Time for Taiwan.”

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