In our series of interviews, Eric Lin, the Director of International Affairs Division, Taiwan Tourism Bureau, talks to Crescentrating about attracting the Muslim visitors to Taiwan.
CrescentRating: You have spent 27 years with the Taiwan Tourism Bureau. How has the tourism industry evolved in Taiwan during this time?
Lin: Taiwan’s tourism has been prospering with a yearly growth of more than one million tourist arrivals. In 2015, the number of tourist arrivals was over 10 million, more than double the 3,840,000 tourist arrivals in 2008. Along with the strong growth in the quantity of foreign tourists, tourists are no longer satisfied with just the traditional round of Taiwan itineraries. Instead, they tend to participate in theme events, experience local lifestyle, join cruise tours or incentive tours, etc.
As a result, Taiwan’s tourism industries have worked with the government and opened their mind to face all the challenges and provide special tours for them, as well as making special arrangements for new emerging market tourists such as Muslims and people from ASEAN countries. We will continue to work hand in hand in promoting the gross output value and the sustainable development of tourism in Taiwan; and thus, travelers from around the world will continue to be attracted by the beauty of Taiwan and be touched by their travel experience while touring Taiwan.
CrescentRating: During the last couple of years you have been targeting the Muslim Travel market. What was the motivation behind this initiative?
Lin: We know that the population of Muslim has reached over 1.6 billion.
The newly rich people in Muslim countries now see traveling as a necessity of living, so the traveling population has grown pretty fast. We also know that Muslims like to travel with families and would like to know where the latest and most popular destinations are; moreover, the Muslim tourism market has also been seen as an important market by other competitors.
It has become an important market which is worth exploring. Taiwan is located in the center of Asia Pacific. With rich natural and agricultural resources, people’s friendliness, religious diversity and inclusiveness, and more direct flights to Muslim countries encourage both our government and tourism industry to have the same goal to build up Muslim-friendly travel environment, and to become one of the best destination for Muslim tourists.
CrescentRating: What are initiates that you have taken during the last 12 months as a part of attracting the Muslim market.
Lin: To attract more Muslim tourists to Taiwan, and to increase the visibility of Taiwan in the Muslim world, we have been focused on building up a Muslim-friendly environment in Taiwan. The Bureau has worked with Chinese Muslim Association (CMA, Taiwan) to issue certifications for restaurants that provide halal food, as well as to hotels and central kitchens, Our aim is to provide various food and comfortable hotels for Muslim travelers. Our bureau also provides subsidies for the acquisition of Halal certification by restaurants to encourage restaurants and hotels to improve or renovate their facilities to fulfill Muslims needs.
In order to make Muslim travelers feel more at ease, the bureau has also encouraged public transportation facilities and scenic spots to build prayer rooms and washlets.
Now 13 National Scenic Areas, Taoyuan International Airport, Kaohsiung International Airport, Taipei Train Station, Kaohsiung Train Station, and Taiwan High Speed Rail Taichung Station have set up Muslim-friendly facilities, and other places will be gradually added to the list.
On the other hand, in order to promote Taiwan as a Muslim-friendly destination, our overseas branch office such as the KL Office and Singapore Office will continue to target Southeast Asia and the Middle East to post advertisements participate in travel fairs and work with travel agencies and the media.
CrescentRating:. How has the travel industry stake holders in the Taiwan reacted to this initiative?
Lin: Taiwan’s tourism industry has always been highly sensitive to market transitions. In 2008, the Taiwan Tourism Bureau worked with the Taiwan Visitors Association (TVA) to invite international Muslim clerics and experts to carry out on-site inspections and plan out special tour routes, and to assist hotels and restaurants along those routes in acquiring Muslim-Friendly Restaurant and Halal Restaurant certification.
In 2011, there were 14 Halal certified businesses in Taiwan, including the restaurants in hotels, leisure farms and theme parks. As a result of our continuous cooperation with CMA (Chinese Muslim Association) to help the industry to improve, we have been adding 20 more certified units every year.
CMA is the oldest Muslim organization in our country. They represent all the Muslims in Taiwan in dealing with international affairs and domestic religious activities. All the mosques in Taiwan are part of the Association.
CrescentRating: What have been the main challenges that you have faced in rolling out this initiative?
Lin: The Muslim population is a minority in Taiwan, so most Taiwanese are not familiar with Muslim culture. In the beginning, the staff of the Tourism Industry did not know how to serve Muslim tourists. Usually they learn about Muslim culture while arranging the tour or services for Muslim tourists. Fortunately, Taiwan has been known for its people’s friendliness, so staff in the tourism industry are able to provide appropriate services for the travelers based on their needs.
CrescentRating: What are your short to medium term objectives in rolling out this project?
Lin: We will continue to build the Muslim-friendly travel environment, and wish in the end of 2016, there will be 100 certified units.
Our final goal is to attract more and more Muslim visitors to travel to Taiwan, and we hope Taiwan will become the best destination for Muslim in Asia.
CrescentRating: We just released the MasterCard- CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index 2016. How has the report helped you in developing this project?
Lin: The index will not only allow international Muslim travelers to understand that Taiwan values the importance of Muslims visitors, but also encourage Taiwan's tourism industry to continue to improve our reception quality. Hence more and more Muslim visitors can feel safe and relaxed while traveling in Taiwan.