Coffee In Taipei

This week, Senior Editor Mark Rogers has joined 50 Signature Travel Services travel agents on a fam trip hosted by EVA Air, Stella Travel Services global wholesaler Travel2 and the Travel Section of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office.


Agents on fam in Taiwan

I met for coffee with Michael Londregan, the president of Travel2, Stanley C. Yen, group president of the Landis Hotels & Resorts and Jean Chang, president of Golden Foundation Tours Corp. Before the coffee was even poured we had to get one topic out of the way: how best to survive the economic downturn.

"There is still much good business to be had in a tough market," said Yen. "We're going to concentrate on market share and partnerships."

Yen revealed that his strategy was to tell his people not to chase after the price. "The people (both the staff and the guests) are an important part of the ambiance of a hotel. If we lower our price too much then we invite in a different level of guest to crash into the hotel," explained Yen. "Instead, we'll create promotions, and we'll strive to improve service and give more value to our guests."

I asked Yen how Taiwan planned to promote itself in the U.S. market next year. He replied, "We have a marketing budget of $70 to $80 million (U.S.) this year, which is much higher than in years past."

"What we're seeing is that everyone has a deal, but not everyone has a message," observed Londregan. It's delicate; you have to build demand, then train the agent. Third, you have to get the customer to the agent. It's a three-year project to complete the process.

Chang praised the ongoing marketing efforts Taiwan Tourist Office in the U.S., but added that Taiwan has a way to go to capture its share of the leisure market. According to Chang, the U.S. visitor has shifted from an average of two to three nights, to one-week stays.

Additional data reveals that the average FIT traveler to Taiwan from the U.S. is 42 years old, has an average income of $78,000 and, more often than not, is female.

We began talking about Taiwan's appeal for the U.S. market, ticking off a list of features, including the friendliness of its people, its culture, its attractions like the National Museum and Taipei 101, and activities ranging from cycling to relaxing in a hot springs resort.

Londregan posed that instead of promoting a multitude of reasons why a visitor should choose Taiwan, the country needed to market only three things to create a stronger identity for the consumer. It was also agreed that there was an education gap and, therefore, greater efforts needed to be made to educate travel agents about Taiwan.

Londregan also outlined his plans for Travel2 to create an Asia Pass similar to the ultra-successful Aussie Pass. His ideal price point would be $1,099 for three flights to Asian destinations. This would be further trimmed to $999 if the traveler opted for a ten-day trip or longer. "We're looking at the participation of three carriers," says Londregan.

The proposed Asia Pass would be tremendously beneficial to Taiwan, since the destination is a transportation hub for the region. Chances are that one of those three destinations chosen by the traveler holding an Asia Pass would be Taiwan, since they would be passing through Taipei's international airport at least once.

Londregan mentioned that it's a challenge for a company like Travel2 when airlines don't hold their prices steady. There are a lot of ruffled feathers when a traveler who booked far ahead sees their flight sell for less than they paid as the date for travel draws nearer.

It's clear that Taiwan is still trying to define itself to the U.S. market. An image that occurred to me was that Taiwan was like New Jersey. How could a state like New Jersey draw first time visitors to America when it had to compete with destinations like San Francisco, New York or Los Angeles? (Or in Taiwan's case, Thailand, China and Japan?) Then another example came to mind. Napa, once little acknowledged, now has a world-wide distinction as an up-market destination with a clear identity as a wine region with excellent hotels. As always, the devil is in the details; Taiwan will have to carve out a message and make it stick.

Yen and Chang both expressed the hope that at the conclusion of the Signature fam, they would be provided with some useful agent feedback on how to promote their country.

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