Travel Agent recently sat down with Trust Hsin-Jen Lin, the new Director of Tourism for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles. In the last several months China began easing restrictions on travel to Taiwan to allow its citizens holding Taiwan travel permits to use more entry and exit points in the Taiwan Strait and to allow more charter flights between the two countries. The two countries have a troubled past dating back to 1949 when they clashed in a civil war. China claims Taiwan as part of its territory, although Taiwan continues self-rule and to resist political unification.
Vicky Chen, deputy director, Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Trust Hsin-Jen Lin, director of tourism for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, with Mark Rogers in Los Angeles
The new relaxation in restrictions on travel is expected to promote dual-destination travel and to have a beneficial effect on Taiwan’s tourism. “We’re calling it the New Golden Triangle,” says Lin. “The three points of the triangle are Los Angeles, Taipei and Beijing.”
Lin notes that one of Taiwan’s major selling points is its intact Chinese culture and heritage, since the country wasn’t part of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. “A difference between our country and Mainland China is the friendliness of the Taiwan people,” says Lin. “The way we practice our religions and observe our festivals has been preserved.”
When Lin took the position as director, he was given two directives, to increase distribution channels by creating more partnerships with tour operators, and to work with the media to raise awareness of Taiwan. “Recently, in one of his speeches, Barack Obama said “Thailand” when he meant to say “Taiwan,” says Lin. “When I heard that I couldn’t help wondering how many other people confuse the two countries.”
Lin has been on the job since July. One of his first experiences on arrival was attending a Taiwan travel agent educational dinner in San Diego. The way Lin tells it, about 45 travel agents showed up. Throughout the course of the evening the attendees seemed more interested in food than education. “I was so surprised when two days later we got a booking for a group of 35 out of San Diego, as a direct result of this dinner,” says Lin. “In two days we went from close to zero to 35.” Lin realizes the need for agent education and travel agents can expect to see a Taiwan Specialist Course in 2009.
“Taiwan may be the best kept secret in Asia,” says Lin. “We need to build up its image as a tour destination.” Lin notes that Taiwan is a versatile destination that offers a range of experiences, from up-to-the-minute experiences in modern Taipei to exploring the natural beauty of Yushan Mountain and the Taroko Gorge, from relaxing in hot springs resorts to interacting with Taiwan’s aborigines.
New tour operator partnerships that Lin has created include those with Stella Tours, Jetabout, and Sita World Tours. In fact, Sita will begin selling tours to Taiwan for the first time. “Seasoned travelers are looking for something new,” says Lin.
Taiwan’s status as a major trading partner with the U.S. has bolstered business travel to the destination, with most business travel concentrated in Taipei. The country hopes to boost mainstream travel from the U.S. to the destination, including 2nd and 3rd generation Taiwanese in the States. “At first we’ll be concentrating on seniors and the baby boomer market,’ says Lin. “Once these markets are established we’ll pinpoint specific markets, such as the adventure market and honeymooners.”