Taiwan turns up the ‘halal charm’ to entice Muslim tourists
AS MAINLAND CHINESE ARRIVALS to Taiwan continue to dwindle, the island nation is looking to draw numbers from Muslim tourists instead.
Located merely 180km east of mainland China, Taiwan sees itself as a self-ruling, separate nation but China sees Taiwan as part of its territory. Due to Taiwan’s refusal to acknowledge that it is part of China, the Chinese government has been pulling back Taiwan tourism promotions.
Chinese visitor numbers dipped since Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen took office in May 2016 and it doesn’t seem to be recovering anytime soon. In fact, Chinese numbers dropped by a fifth last year.
As such, Taiwan is pushing their promotional efforts south.
Under its “southbound policy”, Taiwan will zone in on 16 south and Southeast Asian countries including Australia and New Zealand. Particularly, the country is hoping to seek more visitors from Muslim-majority countries such as Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
The charming island already has a wealth of attractions and experiences to offer, such as its bustling night markets, a plethora of mouth-watering food and treats, thriving shopping hot spots, sprawling lush nature, hot springs resorts, as well as modern and traditional architecture.
But a couple of measures are being taken to ensure Taiwan is Muslim-friendly enough:
Halal-approved: The Taiwan Tourism Bureau has worked with Taiwan’s Chinese Muslim Association (CMA) to issue certifications for restaurants, hotels and central kitchens that provide halal food. More than 100 hotels and restaurants on the island have since received the certification.
Visa waiver: Taiwan has also launched a visa waiver program, extending visa-free travel privileges to Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and a number of Muslim-majority nations. Visitors from India, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos can apply for a free travel authorization certificate on the official Taipei Economic and Cultural Office website.
Mindful tourism: Most Taiwanese aren’t familiar with Muslim practices and culture. As such, the Taiwan Tourism Bureau has been hiring and training staff to better serve Muslim tourists. For the more discerning Muslim travelers, there are even halal tour packages available, complete with Muslim-friendly accommodations, safe meals and English-speaking staff.
Place of worship: Most Taiwanese embrace Taoism, but to make Muslim travelers feel more at ease, public transportation facilities and Taiwan’s scenic spots are building prayer rooms and wash areas. There are also eight mosques, with the oldest and largest being the Taipei Grand Mosque, on the island.
Speaking to Travel Wire Asia, 27-year-old advertising account executive Nur Syahana said, “I’ve only ever been to Taiwan once, and not on tour, about three years ago but it really surprised me how they’re putting in so much effort to adapt to us Muslim travelers. Halal food is easy to find and Taiwanese are also very warm and welcoming. I didn’t feel alienated at all.”
Other than Taiwan, Asian nations such as Thailand, South Korea, and Japan have also been tapping into the Muslim market.