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Stanley Yen urges Taiwan to shift its tourism approach from fast travel to slow travel

The following is the English translation of an interview with ACF Chair Stanley Yen in Chinese.

Fast travelers produce short-term economic gain

Taiwan once received many fast travelers from mainland China. When we reflect on that period, it is now evident that fast travelers did not bring sustainable economic growth to Taiwan, but rather, short term gain. With the halt of travel over the pandemic, I believe it is the exact opportunity for Taiwan’s tourism industries to retire from its fast travel approach to slow travel; however, it is only when our people truly understand what civil living is, that we know how to practice the slow travel approach.

At the boom of receiving fast travelers, travel companies bought buses and ships to meet the short term demand, and several street vendor souvenir stands appeared. The travelers visited few sites, even covering the entire East Coast of Taiwan (Hualien and Taitung) in just one day. In Taitung, for example, their travel itinerary would only include Water Flowing Upwards followed by the Taroko Gorge in Hualien believing that they had seen Taiwan. Street vendors sell souvenirs with the intention of profiting from one-time spenders while often sharing 50% of the revenue with travel agents. This approach will only attract fast travelers to Taiwan. Mayors place too much focus on the number of visitors coming into their cities without realizing that the fast travel approach doesn’t add value to Taiwan but rather undervalues it. With the halt of mainland Chinese tourists coming into Taiwan, the once occupied buses and ships are no longer in use.

Every city should identify its speciality

Each city in Taiwan is a gem. Take Taitung Sugar Factory Cultural and Creative Park as an example where you will find not only Za Num’s Workshop but several artists from along the South-link line’s workshops as well as the Bulareyaung Dance Company and Taitung Echo Orchestra. Is there another space in Taiwan that holds as much artist energy? Taitung encompasses 10% of Taiwan’s land mass, the outcome could be very different if we developed the region’s tourism with the slow travel approach.

When I visited Penghu several years ago, the locals informed me that they receive many tourists in the summer, while in the winter it is quiet. The problem is that Penghu focuses too much on its summer market, and its itinerary is designed for one day. If Penghu created a two to three day itinerary or even one week, the approach will not be the same.

The value of transitioning into civil living

If tourists only know of Yehliu Geopark and Yehliu Ocean World in the north of Taiwan, naturally, they will be the only places occupied while the rest of the New Taipei City region is vacant. If, however, we identify specialities in each area, the outcome could be very different. This should be the focus of the government. Over the pandemic, I wrote a book that urges the importance of humanity and civil living. We must transition ourselves into a civil living society.

I have a friend who married a photographer from Bordeaux. They now run a B&B there in a 300-year old residence with ten rooms. Most of their guests come from the north of Europe and stay for over one week. They enjoy their time there and at the vineyards without the need to go to Paris. This is a form of civil living. Our goal isn’t to see the entire world but rather to find a city we enjoy to relax in. For Taiwan, Taitung, Hualien, and Nantou could follow suit depending on how each area is packaged.

Nantou: From a region known for Sun Moon Lake to a region known for tea plantation What would change if we modeled Napa Valley’s approach in Nantou? Though Napa Valley produces renowned wines, their main focus isn’t to sell their wines but rather to sell their wine tasting and tour experiences. Nantou’s tea plantations could model the experience. Each plantation produces different flavors, types and seasons of teas. Travelers could enjoy tea tasting as well as the restaurants nearby the plantations. This is what civil living is and will add value to a region; however, when I visited Nantou, plantations instead brought their teas to the Sun Moon Lake area to sell making it challenging to make a true profit and contribute to sustainable economy. If Nantou could remodel their plantations to that of Shi-Yang Culture Restaurant in New Taipei City where people’s intentions are to go there to relax, taste teas and tour the plantation, the experience will be much elevated. Young people that have left their hometowns are also more likely to return to the region to work.

From craftsmanship to artistry

Vocational education in Taiwan should elevate its methods to foster students at the “master” or “artist” level rather than focusing only on the “craftsman” level. In a restaurant, aesthetics such as plating, décor, and music are not within the capacity of a cook; and if the cook only learns the skills of cooking, then they will not likely transition to become chefs or culinary artists. We need to elevate Taiwan’s education as a whole from craftsmanship to artistry, but to become an artist takes hard work.

In the businesses I consulted in the past, the journey from craftsmanship to artistry isn’t a smooth one. If we took education institutes as an example, if teachers cannot understand the importance of elevating themselves into artistry, they will continue to use dated methods. It’s a regretful loss when I feel I cannot inspire their thinking.

It also saddens me when the Taiwan government doesn’t succeed in shifting the overall climate of the country. On one hand, Taiwan wants to be internationalized, yet on the other, the English language isn’t enforced within our tourism industries. If the people don’t have English ability, they cannot fulfil even the basic needs of what tourists wish to eat.

Huatung is an asset that could transition Taiwan to become a slow travel destination

Over the years, ACF has supported the Huatung region helping to identify and uplift its assets which include contemporary arts, indigenous culture, sports, and hospitality. We supported, for example, the Sinasera 24 restaurant as well as made the proposal to the local government to allow the public to access the Flowing Lake as a training ground for swimming and sailing. Several of Junyi School of Innovation alumni are financially supported to pursue study overseas. 2022 marks the first year for a Junyi alumni to graduate from college. Alumni from financially underprivileged background will potentially be the changemakers of their societies. This is what I have done in the Huatung region which is a model that can be applied country-wide. I believe Taiwan must work hard for change in 2023. If our travel industries don’t make the effort for change, even if we had the opportunity to host influential people, they will not likely be touched.

Paul Chiang Art Center as the global landmark

My most recent involvement is the Paul Chiang Art Center, a project developed on shared values between the artist, Paul Chiang, and I. We hope to create a global landmark that will draw tourists to Taiwan all seasons. After its opening in 2024, the art center has in plan to invite artists from across the world to stay at its artist residence. We hope to bring artists to the indigenous villages to experience and be inspired by the culture and environment. I believe they will indefinitely be touched. The goal isn’t for them to produce art while they are in Taitung, it is more so to inspire them to create something after their return to their home country. I believe this will be even more meaningful. Recently, I had the honor of inviting Japan’s renowned curator, Fumio Nanjo, to Taitung. I can see that when he saw the art center, he was very touched. He will invite other Japanese artists to Taitung. I have in plan to invite influential people such as Yingtai Lung and Yu-Xiu Chen for them to take on the role as the art center’s host for, for example, two months. They may invite overseas friends and artists to visit during their lead.

Taiwan should refrain from comparing ourselves with others. Our greatest asset is the local lifestyle and civil living. I hope that the people will realize that Taiwan does not have to compare with the size of other’s landmarks, but rather, our way of life. We cannot compare Chinese culture with China, but if we put value on our own indigenous culture, this will be our speciality. I await for the day the central and local governments of Taiwan reach mutual consensus.

To express civil living, we must practice civil living. We need to have the ability to calm our minds. The world is going backwards at the moment in terms of civil living with the demand for instant gratification. I believe that if we can calm our minds and transition our fast travel approach to slow travel to become a destination without purpose, we will all have a different experience.

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