Taiwan has resumed warmly welcoming overseas visitors, and Taiwanese are once again enjoying overseas vacations. The country’s airports and hotels are bustling. Attractions like Ximending and Taipei 101 are reporting a steady flow of foreign tourists.
Another sign that the travel and hospitality industries have finally put the pandemic behind them is the anticipation surrounding events like the Taipei Tourism Expo (the 2023 edition was held from May 26 to May 29) and the upcoming Taipei International Travel Fair (ITF). The ITF – held almost every year since 1986 – is much more than a meetup where Taiwanese buyers and sellers network with each other and their international counterparts. This year’s fair, which will run from November 3 to November 6, promises to be yet another honeypot for travel enthusiasts seeking information, inspiration, and bargains.
This is also the first edition of the ITF since the former Taiwan Tourism Bureau, and upgraded to the Tourism Administration. The Ministry of Transportation and Communications, which oversees the Tourism Administration, has set a target of 12 million international visitors by 2024. That is a big jump from this year’s goal of 6 million tourists.
The 2023 ITF will bring together under a single roof major players and smaller specialist businesses. As in previous years, visitors can expect to find well over 1,000 booths representing airlines, car rental companies, cruise lines, hotel chains, resorts, theme parks, travel agents, tour operators, and tourism publications – as well as local- and central-government tourism units from Asia, Europe, North America, and elsewhere. Associations which represent Taiwan’s minsu (B&B-style homestays) and niches like adventure tourism and ecotourism will also be present.
At the closing ceremony of what is said to be Asia’s largest travel-related trade show, the organizers will honor the best exhibitors, such as those who showed exceptional creativity in terms of presentation, which enjoyed great popularity during the event, or which offered innovative and sustainable travel solutions to the public.
Travel addicts who come hoping to snag bargains will find that research done ahead of time into the strengths and specialties of particular exhibitors can pay dividends, as several participating businesses will announce unbeatable but limited-quantity offers for air tickets and package tours in the runup to opening day. Because every exhibitor must meet a strict set of conditions, visitors can be sure that every single business represented here is in full compliance with the Tourism Administration’s licensing and insurance requirements.
As in previous years, the event is set to include stage performances by renowned troupes from home and abroad, and forums in which tourism professionals will discuss issues and trends within the industry. The always-popular contests and giveaways are opportunities to win gift coupons for hot springs visits and discounted hotel stays.
Anthony van Dyck, a long-time expatriate resident of Taipei, was among 190,000-plus people who attended the 2022 ITF. “I was interested in seeing how Taiwan was opening up after the pandemic, and to see if hospitality businesses were reaching out to the international community after a few years of relying heavily on domestic tourism,” says the Canadian, who heads Taiwan operations for a UK multinational.
Van Dyck says he was especially impressed by the Japanese entities that joined the ITF. It is not surprising that Japanese businesses and organizations make a special effort to woo Taiwan-based travelers: In 2022 Taiwan was the number two source of foreign visitors to that country, and in January-February 2023, Japan was the most popular destination for outbound travelers from Taiwan.
The 2023 Taipei International Travel Fair will be held at the Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center Hall 1. Taipei Metro’s Nangang Exhibition Center Station is served by both the underground Blue Line and the elevated Brown Line. More than a dozen city bus routes stop nearby.
As in previous years, the 2023 ITF is being organized by the Taiwan Visitors Association (www.tva.org.tw), a nonprofit private-sector body that has been working to develop the country’s tourism industry for more than 60 years. The fair’s English-Chinese-Japanese website is www.taipeiitf.org.tw.
Travelers heading for Taiwan in early 2024 may be able to attend the annual Lantern Festival.
The festival marks the traditional climax of the lunar new year period, during which almost all business halts for several days and students enjoy a long break from school. Called Yuanxiao Jie in Mandarin, the Lantern Festival was originally celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month (the first full moon of the new year). In recent years, however, it has become a multi-day spectacular of which dazzling lanterns are just one facet.
The festival gets its name from the way it was celebrated in the past. At this time of year, the temples in which Taiwanese people practice their fascinating blend of Buddhism, Taoism and folk beliefs were decorated with paper-and-bamboo lanterns illuminated by candles or oil lamps. Many such lanterns were red, an auspicious color in Han culture. Others featured scenes from Chinese legends or enigmatic sentences.
These days, Lantern Festival revelers are just as likely to celebrate in a park as at a shrine. And thanks to government backing, the event has expanded from ad hoc local celebrations to a themed national gala that is both appealing and accessible.
Instead of the barrel-shaped, flickering-wick lanterns of yore, the festival now showcases dazzling LED setups, which can be programmed to change color and engage in other forms of visual trickery. It is no wonder that, some years ago, Discovery Channel introduced the Lantern Festival to a global audience as part of its Fantastic Festivals of the World TV series.
Taiwan’s main Lantern Festival decamps to a new location each year. In 2022, it was staged in the southern harbor metropolis of Kaohsiung. The 2023 venue was Taipei.
The historic former capital of Tainan will host the 2024 Taiwan Lantern Festival from February 3 to March 10. It was an obvious choice, as next year coincides with the 400th anniversary of a key date in Taiwan’s history. In 1624, the Dutch East India Company established a trading outpost in what is now Tainan’s Anping District. Even though they stayed for less than 40 years, and never controlled more than a fraction of Taiwan’s land area, the arrival of the Dutch is recognized as having had an enormous impact on the island’s development by encouraging migrants from China’s Fujian province to settle in the southwest and grow rice and sugar.
Delightfully quaint Anping will be one of the Lantern Festival’s principal venues. The area around Tainan’s high-speed railway station will be another. A Taiwan Railways link, regular buses, and inexpensive taxis connect the former with downtown Tainan. From Taipei, bullet trains take about 1’45” to reach Tainan.
For full details of events in Tainan throughout the year, visit the Tainan City Government Tourism Bureau’s multilingual website at https://www.twtainan.net. For additional information about visiting Taiwan, please contact the tourism hotline at 0800- 011-765 (toll free within Taiwan) or go to the website of the Tourism Administration at www.taiwan.net.tw.