How to attract Muslim tourists to Taiwan in the year 2020 and beyond? The answer to this question may not be as straightforward in the wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic. The country has pretty much conquered the Japanese market.
Every year since 2014, Taiwan has been the no. 1 overseas destination for Japanese travelers. While Chinese tourists have the money and inclination to come in droves, they lack the freedom to go wherever they want to. If Taiwan is to attract more visitors from nearby countries and other regions, it has to focus on attracting Muslim tourists from Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas.
How To Attract Muslim Tourists To Taiwan In 2020?
For decades, Southeast Asians with Chinese ancestry have been flocking to Taiwan to study and do business with locals. However, reaching beyond the Chinese diaspora is complicated by various factors including religion. Islam is the majority faith in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei and more than 50 other countries around the world — yet the Muslim visitors to Taiwan who want to pray in mosques and observe Islamic dietary laws are often out of luck as the country has very few of both mosques and halal restaurants.
Taiwan has only nine mosques or prayer halls for Muslims out of the country’s 15,000-plus registered houses of religion. Outside of explicitly vegetarian restaurants, finding meals that don’t include some amount of pork or lard can be difficult in the country.
Official efforts to tap into the huge Muslim market — almost a quarter of the world’s population — began in 2008, when the Tourism Bureau and the Taiwan Visitors Association invited international Islamic tourism experts to visit the country. The bureau recently established permanent offices in Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta to try to attract more Muslim visitors into the country. In the first half of this year, a new office in Dubai was also established. However, the prospects of Muslim visitors from the Middle East and other countries look bleak during 2020 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Taiwan Needs To Understand The Concept of Halal First
Taiwan, as a country, needs to thoroughly understand the concept of halal first before it can start attracting enough number of Muslim visitors in the country. In 2010, the bureau published a 104-page booklet titled Traveling in Taiwan for Muslims. An example of fine intentions but flawed execution, it mentioned the availability of snake wine and snake meat at Taipei’s Huaxi Street Night Market, even though both are haram (strictly forbidden in Islam). It also introduced Yu Zhen Zhai, a traditional bakery in Lukang which, as of the end of last year, had yet to obtain halal certification. These blunders were somewhat rectified in the 2012 edition of the booklet.
A lack of halal food availability around major tourist spots is one of the biggest obstacles preventing more Muslims from visiting Taiwan, says Elaine Tee of Have Halal, Will Travel (HHWT), a Singapore-based travel and lifestyle platform for Muslims. She describes Taiwan as “a pretty new destination for the Muslim travel segment. It has lots of natural sights that can attract Muslims, coupled with lower costs compared to Japan and some other destinations in the region.”
Current State Of The Muslim Tourism In Taiwan
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, the capital of Taiwan, which offers a whole range of Shariah-compliant facilities and amenities to make life easy for Muslim travelers.
Tapping the Muslim Market
Connie Chang, Director-General of Department of Overall Planning in Taiwan, said a few years ago that “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 halal-friendly 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 the country. The Bureau is working with the Chinese Muslim Association (CMA, Taiwan) to issue certifications for restaurants that provide halal food, as well as hotels and central kitchens.”
“Our aim is to provide halal 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 to improve or renovate their facilities to fulfill Muslim needs. In order to make Muslim travelers feel more at ease, the Bureau is encouraging public transportation facilities and scenic spots to have prayer rooms and Shariah-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.
No. of Muslim Visitors To The Country
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 travelers is steadily rising. According to current forecasts, the number of Muslim travelers — 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.
According to Lin, the 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.
The Taiwanese government is trying hard and fast to build a Muslim-friendly echo system in the country to attract more and more Muslim visitors. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a halt to its efforts to lure international travelers. However, only time will tell how its efforts to make the country a Muslim-friendly travel destination for the Muslim visitors have brought any results in the year 2020 and beyond.