A Time for Taiwan

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Earlier this year, Taiwan President Ma Ying-Jeou declared it to be Taiwan Tourism Year 2009 and pledged $891.7 million to boost development of Taiwan for tourism and increase its messaging to the world.

And indeed—for a leaf-shaped island nation barely the size of Israel—Taiwan has a lot to show for its time and a lot to tell, and travel companies selling Asia to U.S. travelers are listening.

Despite the impact from the latest financial crisis on the tourism market, the number of visitors traveling to Taiwan is rising rapidly, according to Taiwan Tourism Bureau representatives in Los Angeles. And prominent companies such as SITA World Tours, JTB Americas and Pacific Delight Tours are now selling Taiwan to the North American market.

“Targeting all members of the American market, including the enormous Asian-American market is important to us,” says Trust Lin, director, travel section, Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Los Angeles. Lin points to recent promotions such as the $1 per Free Night Stopover package Taiwan is offering through various hotel and tour alliances as assisting the cause of familiarizing travelers with all the comforts and beauty Taiwan can present.

“This is truly an emerging destination for travelers from the U.S. and they will find it to be a spectacular place, full of surprises,” says Jean Chang, president of Golden Foundation Tours, an inbound company that has been showcasing the treasures of Taiwan to European and American travelers since 1971.

Although the bargains are not to be had in the same way they might be found in China—this is not an island of textile and toy factories—much of the local culture is preserved through foods and crafts and these are well worth exploring. The island’s myriad original indigenous populations maintain their villages and traditions, and festivals remain a magnet for bringing in the crowds, especially the annual lantern festival. This is celebrated throughout the island in a big way each year on the 15th day of the first lunar month with spectacular displays of lights, brilliant sculptures and magical lanterns set alight into the night sky.

AsiaLuxe Holidays, formerly Asia Affair Holidays, offers some very affordable packages for Taiwan, although you will not find them in their catalog. They work primarily with Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines and EVA Air to provide edifying FIT programs that can be customized with added mini-itineraries and upgrades. The classic Taiwan Holiday tour goes for $1,180 pp dbl for three days in Taipei, including international air via EVA Air. It’s a simple tour that includes roundtrip airport-hotel transfers, three nights at the Howard Plaza Hotel, daily breakfast and a half-day Taipei city tour.

An additional Amazing Taiwan “around the island” tour can be created for another $840 pp dbl and an additional five days. Selling this option on top of a Taiwan Holiday package brings private car and privately guided visits to Sun Moon Lake, Taroko Gorge, mountains, cliffs, the sea and hot springs. It even includes a day at Foguangshan Buddhist Monastery with an overnight at the monastery guesthouse. The base Taiwan Holiday package can be up-sold to a Taiwan Holiday Elite for $1,600 pp dbl, marked by a seat upgrade on EVA Air to Elite Class. All tours are fully flexible and can be customized.

New York-based Absolute Travel (formerly Absolute Asia) also presents Taiwan on a platter with several sample itineraries that can be used as is or customized according to clients’ interests.

“We have always included Taiwan as an important Asia destination and now that we have partnered with EVA, we are seeing it gaining interest as an area of undiscovered beauty,” says Darrell Clausen, director of sales. “Chinese history and art, unspoiled scenic beauty, natural hot springs, ease of getting around, these seem to be its primary selling points. Until now, the National Palace Museum has been the central feature but tours outside Taipei are becoming more popular.”

Four Taiwan tours are given—from the 4-day Imperial Splendor tour of Taipei, to the 9-day comprehensive Over the Mountains, Down to the Sea package. The latter takes Taiwan leisurely by private car with visits to night markets in Taipei, visits to historical Lukang City and nearby Sun Moon Lake, visits to Taroko Gorge and Kenting National Park and other places of interest for $4,880 pp dbl, not including international air. Top-tier accommodations are used and most meals are included. Special interest tours can be arranged around culinary interests, historical visits and spa tours, Clausen says. “There’s a butterfly farm outside of Taipei that can be visited along with aboriginal villages, and there is an overnight stay at a beautiful hotel on a mountain ridge with views of both the valley and the sea. We usually develop itineraries after consulting with our clients.”