Taiwan, one of the four ‘Asian tigers’ with a per capita income of nearly $40,000, has pulled out all the stops to woo tourists from Gulf countries. There is a daily direct flight from Dubai to Taipei, capital of Taiwan, which offers a whole range of Islam-compliant facilities and amenities to make life easy for Muslim travellers.
Tapping the Muslim market
Speaking exclusively to Al Arabiya English at the headquarters of Taiwan’s National Development Council, Connie Chang, Director-General of Department of Overall Planning, said: “The State of the Global Islamic Economy 2016/17 report released by financial services firm Thomson-Reuters forecasts that spending by Muslim consumers worldwide will increase from $1.9 trillion in 2015 to $2.6 trillion by 2020. This is a potential market that we want to tap into.”
Elaborating on the island nation’s Muslim-friendly policy, Chang added: “Government projects to foster ties with Muslim nations include Halal Taiwan, an annual trade show to promote locally made products and services. The government has also initiated campaigns to increase the number of halal-certified establishments in Taiwan as well as simplified visa procedures for visitors from the Middle East and Muslim-majority countries in other regions.”
According to Eric Lin, Director of International Affairs Division at the Taiwan Tourism Bureau; “To attract more Muslim tourists and to increase the visibility of Taiwan in the Muslim world, we are building a Muslim-friendly environment in Taiwan. The Bureau is working with Chinese Muslim Association (CMA, Taiwan) to issue certifications for restaurants that provide halal food, as well as hotels and central kitchens.”
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“Our aim is to provide food and comfortable hotels for Muslim visitors. Our bureau also provides subsidies for the acquisition of halal certification by restaurants and hotels to encourage them improve or renovate their facilities to fulfil Muslims needs. In order to make Muslim travellers feel more at ease, the Bureau is encouraging public transportation facilities and scenic spots to have prayer rooms and Islam-compliant toilets.”
Lin proudly quoted the latest MasterCard-Crescent Rating Global Muslim Travel Index which identifies Taiwan as the safest destination for Muslims outside the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries. Taiwan also emerged as the seventh most popular destination among 130 non-OIC nations.
Casting the net wide
The numbers are still small, though. Last year, only about 200,000 of the 10.44 million tourists who flocked to Taiwan were Muslim. But officials like Chang and Lin are optimistic as the number of Muslim travellers is rising. According to current forecasts, the number of Muslim travellers — which reached 117 million or 10 percent of the global figure — will grow to 168 million in 2020. Taiwan hopes to gain a sizeable share of it.
The annual Mazu pilgrimage and festival is one of the biggest and most colorful religious events in Taiwan. It has even been recognized by UNESCO as a world intangible heritage. The 330km pilgrimage route will attract over 100,000 devotees, and it is not uncommon to see performances and celebrations along the route, such as this one in Changhua. #tourtaiwan #mazu #changhua #unesco
According to Lin, majority of Muslim visitors to Taiwan are from nearby countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. The cash-rich Gulf region is a huge market and Taiwan’s overtures include the Bureau’s exhibition at the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) fair in Dubai. Lin said that coordinated action by Emirates which operates a daily Dubai-Taipei flight, Taiwan Tourism Bureau and travel agencies is bound to produce results.
Chang’s references to “potential-laden Muslim markets” during the interview and the stress on creating a Muslim-friendly “ecosystem” in Taiwan clearly shows in which direction the wind is blowing.