Taiwan: Tourism Industry for Elderly

Abstract

To the mainland elderly Chinese citizens, Taiwan is an island full of sentimental and historical lessons worth visiting every so often. This explains why 30 percent of tourists who visited Taiwan in 2009 were aged 60 years or more. Combined with the more than 10 percent of the elderly and already retired Taiwanese population, these tourists present a special opportunity for small business development in tourism elderly in Taiwan. This research paper investigates how the small business investors guided by government initiatives are taking responding to the business development opportunity presented by the elderly tourist market.

Introduction

Taiwan has many tourist attractions, but it is the country’s appeal to the elderly tourists that have been making headlines in the recent past. Reporting for the China Daily newspaper for example, Lei (2010) notes that Taiwan attracted 600,000 tourists from mainland China in 2009, and 200,000 of the tourists were aged 60 years or more. The appeal that the island nation has on the elderly is mainly related to the unique attractions which hold sentimental and historical value for the elderly. This research recognizes that while Taiwan may have expected to attract a good number of visitors to the country annually, nothing in the last century had indicated that there was a need to develop special facilities to cater for the elderly tourists in the country. Already established hotels and tour companies therefore find it hard to adjust their services to meet the special needs presented by the elderly tourists.

According to Lei (2010), the Taiwan tourist authorities have expressed the need for stakeholders in the tourism industry to develop travel plans which should be customized to meet the needs of the elderly. Among the advice that the authorities gave small business developers who might want to invest in the sector is that the tour schedule should be less rigorous than a custom schedule for younger tourists. In addition, the Ministry of Interior in Taiwan had earlier noted the need to develop a barrier-free environment not only for incoming tourists, but also for the 10 percent of the Island’s elderly population who were interested in accessing some of the popular tourism sites in the Island (Yan-chi, 2005). This research paper will look at the different undertakings embraced by small business developers in the tourism sector for purposes of advancing elderly tourism in Taiwan.

Literature review

Reviewing existing literature, which has addressed small business development in the tourism industry in Taiwan, reveals that bed-and-breakfast accommodation was the main undertaking that small business men in the tourism industry undertook. Chang (2009) however notes that home-stays are becoming more popular especially with the elderly visitors hence alerting homeowners of the possibility of opening up their homes for potential business prospects by accommodating visitors.

Inspired by the home stay plan, Huei-Ju (2008) observes that a group of entrepreneurs came up with an idea to establish make-shift lodging facilities which were modeled along the traditional home-stays idea. The make-shift lodging facilities were however more standardized, meaning that an elderly tourist choosing to use the accommodation provided in the facilities would know the services to expect.

Yan-chi (2005) on the other hand reckons that for effective business development in tourism for elderly to take place, developers would need to create accessible environment for the elderly. “What we [need] to do is make priorities of facilities that need to be improved. Currently, we are working on bridges and pavement accessibility, followed by parks and tourism spots in the next round” (Yan-chi, 2005). This recommendation by the author was made ostensibly to rid the tourism market for the elderly in Taiwan off obstacles and difficulties. Although Yan-Chi (2005) notes that the total population that need special consideration when on tour represent just 10 percent of Taiwan’s population, he acknowledges that developers cannot just concentrate on providing the country’s population with just enough facilities. Rather, the developers have to consider the yearly influx of elderly tourists from mainland China and elsewhere in the world. More to this, Yan-Chi (2005) observes that when developing facilities for the elderly, the developers must also remember to consider the needs of the disable people, who form 6 percent of the entire Taiwan population.

An analysis conducted by the Department of Economic Affairs (2009) revealed that targeting the in-bound tourists from China could greatly boost the development of the tourism industry in Taiwan. The report however noted that for small business to contribute towards the development of the sector, the local government would need to boost the small scale businesspeople by scraping off some of the requirements needed to operate small scale businesses in the tourism sector. The report by the Department of economic Affairs further noted that three main activities were at the heart of elderly tourism development in Taiwan. They were identified as: themed vacations, recreational traveling and event-oriented activities (Reisinger 2009).

Themed vacations, which are of special importance to elderly tourist, especially those visiting from mainland china, include botanical tours, where the tourists get to visit and experience the different landscapes in the island. Whale watching and white-water rafting are also a favorite of the elderly tourists. Taiwanese cultural tours also have a huge appeal among people from mainland china, since the get to visit historical sites, attend festivals and visit scenic spots which hold cultural or religious significance. Long-term stays are also part of the themed tours, which appeal to retiree especially from Japan. Medical tourism, which included Chinese treatment and hot-spring therapies are combined with contemporary treatments such as knee replacement, laser treatments and general healthcare provision to appeal to the elderly tourists from different corners of the world. Other unique packages provided by the different stakeholders in the tourisms industry include recreational farm tours and railway tours, where the elderly can get to see the landscape from the comfort of the train (Department of Economic Affairs, 2009).

Hsu (2006) has a different approach toward small business development in Taiwan’s tourism industry. Though this author does not specify the actions to be taken in order for the expansion of small businesses to happen, she acknowledges that tourism-related business development is slow in Taiwan because formal training in the sector have been neglected for along time now. According to Hall, Kirkpatrick and Mitchell (2005) account, the first tourism education program was only established in the Island in 1965. Degree courses were later offered by the Chinese Culture University but only to limited students. In recent years however, the author notes that in addition to two tourism schools, Taiwan boasts of a fully dedicated hospitality college, several junior colleges as well as vocational and technical institutions all dedicated towards training young Taiwanese nationals on matters pertaining to the tourism industry. With so much efforts dedicated towards the industry, it is highly likely some young people will seize the opportunities presented in the tourism industry hence presenting the possibility that they will start off as small business men searching for niche markets where they can invest and dedicate their enthusiasm towards.

Research model
Research model (table or figure)ю

Since this research is based on literature review, pointers indicating small business development or lack thereof, for the elderly in Taiwan will be identified and analyzed. This will then form the basis of discussion

Methodology
Methodology (table or figure)ю

This research is based on a review of literature. Being an expansive area, Taiwan presents different hurdles to any researcher who may want to carry out an assessment of the tourism industry. For starters, it is hard to get information about small business developers who have invested in the tourism market. Even when you find them, most are cautious about revealing the performance of their businesses to people they see as total strangers. In view of these shortcomings, this research chose to gauge small business development in tourism industry for elderly in Taiwan based on collective action from both the government, and private stakeholders.

Research Findings

According to Lai (2009), the government in Taiwan has always been at the fore front of supporting small business development in the tourism industry for the elderly. Knowing the limitations that small business men have marketing their services, the government works with other stakeholders to set up cultural facilities where the small and medium enterprises in the tourism sector can exhibit their products and services. Knowing well that most elderly tourists are especially attracted to cultural events, one can confidently surmise that the government has scored well in this strategy. By 2009, “ The National museum of natural science, Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Wen Ying Hall, Taichung Cultural centre, Chungshan Hall, the Chungsing hall, Taichung stadium and the Amphitheater” (Lai, 2009) are among some of the popular cultural centers that the Taiwan government has given the different small business investing in the tourism industry spaces to exhibit regularly.

In addition to the cultural facilities named above, Lai (2009) also observed that the government has in the recent times been encouraging business men who have invested in the tourism sector to engage in cultural activities. With statistics indicating that most elderly tourists visiting Taiwan (especially from mainland) china do so for cultural or sentimental reasons, it is clear that the government clearly understands the needs and preferences of the mature tourism market. “Culture needs activities to expand, to breathe and to be expressed” (Lai, 2009, p. 1). Lai (2009) states that “To set an example for the business investors, different government agencies have hosted cultural activities which include the Rodin sculpture exhibition, musical performances by the likes of Cho-liang lin, Yo-yo Ma, and the Vienna Symphony among others”. While such cultural activities were a huge success in attracting the elderly tourists into the country, the government encourages individual business investors to host such activities in their facilities in order to appeal to repeat tourists and offer memorable experiences to them (Yan-Chih 2005).

The preservation of cultural assets by the Taiwanese government is also a pointer that the government is taking the issue of small business development in the tourism industry for the elderly seriously. According to Lai (2009), the government assist small business investors in the tourism industry exhibit their products and services in galleries across the country. Such include the stock-20 art gallery. This art gallery has the capacity to hold 60 group exhibitors. In 2006, the cultural affairs council in Taiwan opened yet another center for exhibitors where they could design their cultural items and exhibit the same to the thousands of cultural tourists who visit the country (Yan-Chih, 2005).

The development of medical tourism also presents a unique possibility to the government. Lai (2009) observes that Taiwan and China are among the Asian countries where life expectancy has been on a steady increase over the last two decades. As such, the government has been encouraging small business owners to invest in the biomedical and cosmeceutical industries. So far, the response is quite encouraging since Lai (2009) reports that the two identified sectors have been the fastest growing economic segments not only in Taiwan, but also in other countries as well. This however means that if Taiwan is not in the medical tourism alone, the small business owners with an interest in the sector need to be competitive in order to appeal to the elderly tourists more. Notably, medical tourism in the country is small compared to mainland china. Lai (2010) reveals that “Taiwan’s export-based medical tourism industry has been experiencing an average 20 percent annual growth in the past 5 years”.

The government is also intent on enhancing cultural literacy in Taiwan. According to Lai (2009), encouraging citizens to learn as much as they can about the Taiwanese culture is one of the ways that the government in attaining the goal of making most of its citizens knowledgeable. This is done in the hope that cultural literate people will be more willing to participate in the design and creative arts industry, which compliment culture as the main elderly crowd pullers in the country (Butler & Hinch, 2009).

Result and Discussion

One of the most dominant testament that appear on the analysis section is that the Taiwan government has afforded small and medium scale business investors as much political will as they may need in the development of winning tourism packages. As evident in the section above, the government practically “holds the investors arms” and shows them the opportunities that they should invest in. According to Reisenger (2009), the role of government in tourism development is vital. This is especially so because the government enforces laws, comes up with policies and any regulations that it may deem fit. This opinion is also shared by Lin and Hemmington (1999). In addition, the government is also responsible of ensuring that it retains good international relations and must also observe the international regulations that govern tourism across the world. More to this, the degree of cooperation and communication between governments in different countries may affect the perception that each country’s citizens hold (Reisinger 2009).

Government support for small business development in tourism industry for the elderly does not just end with mere propping up; rather, Reisenger (2009) observes that “governments have a vested interest in ensuring that certain standards of competence and conduct prevail in the market place”. This in turn means that by providing an enabling business environment for the small business investors in Taiwan, the government is well aware that it will reap more income from the taxes waged on those business and other supporting services such as airlines. Primary government responsibilities in tourism include the issuance of visas to inbound tourists, effective monitoring of all the country’s entry and exit points, and ensuring that all people leaving or gaining entry into the country abide by the laid down custom regulations. It is also the role of the Taiwan government to market the country’s tourism to the international tourists and ensure that the sector rebounds should a natural catastrophe like was the case in the 1999 earthquake occur (Huang & Min, 2002).

The willingness by which locals are opening up their homes for possible business ventures through home-stays is a pointer that the local Taiwanese are realizing the value of the enterprise. As Chang (2009) indicates, the government realizing the boost that home owners need in order to contact international tourists, are laying down the communication links through which the local home-stay operators can contact travel fairs that handle international tourists. In a clear demonstration of the locals realization of the economic value that the home-stays have on their financial well-being, Chang (2009) reports that “about 100 home-stay hosts from 15 regions are in the process of pooling their resources to integrate their market efforts” (p. 1). This means that locals are now dedicated to developing their respective small businesses in the tourism industry for the elderly, without having to wait for the government to do all the strategizing and marketing.

Small business development in tourism industry for the elderly in Taiwan however is not without challenges. According to Chang (2009), many small business investors “just plunge” into the tourism sector without having conducted enough research or taking the necessary steps. As a result, they fail to meet their objectives and end up disappointing clients due to poor services. In cases where such businesses fail to cover their expenses and make some profits, they either close shop or sell the facility to a more able manager. Another challenge pertains to building emotional attachments with the guests in order to keep generating repeat business. According to Chang (2009), a big percentage of the elderly tourists who use tourism facilities such as home-stays and bed-and-breakfast accommodation are mainly from mainland China and most likely to come back to Taiwan on return visits. The small business owners who manage to build strong emotional bonds with such through memorable lodging and dining services will most likely attract repeat business from the same tourists in future.

Conclusion

Unlike the young tourist market, the elderly tourist market is more sensitive to comfort and as witnessed in the case of those visiting Taiwan, more content with less-rigorous tourism activities such as sigh-seeing and cultural tourism. For small business development in the tourism industry for the elderly to occur in a country like Taiwan, government intervention as illustrated herein is of outmost importance. More to this, development in the elderly tourism cannot be a one-sided affair. This means the small-scale stakeholders and the different governments must be willing to work through concerted efforts in order to make their development initiatives a success. Although there are no convincing statistics to prove that Small business development in Taiwan’s tourism industry is indeed a success, the pointers discussed herein are a clear indication that the country and its people have adopted the right strategy.

References

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