As Hualien Recovers, Focus Shifts to Reviving Tourism

As Hualien Recovers, Focus Shifts to Reviving Tourism
photo credit: Reuters/達志影像

What you need to know

Hualien's county magistrate wants to use vouchers to lure in tourists.

Following the powerful earthquake on Feb. 6, 2018 that left 17 dead, Hualien County Magistrate Fu Kun-chi (傅崐萁) called on the central government to make vouchers available to tourists in order to help the area rebuild.

Fu made the appeal on his Facebook page on Feb. 18, insinuating that the NT$60.5 million (US$2.07 million) promised by the central government to help in rebuilding efforts was not enough. He implored citizens to visit Hualien to pump more dollars into the local economy, which is heavily dependent on tourism.

The local economy is losing approximately NT$50 million per day.

In March 2009, Taiwan’s central government issued consumer vouchers worth NT$3600 (US$115) to each citizen to stimulate the local economy following the global financial crisis in 2008.

In earlier interviews with the press, Fu criticized the government for disparities in relief aid offered to the city of Tainan, which was rocked by a deadly earthquake in February 2016 that killed more than 100 people. He said that Tainan received NT$20 billion (US$687 million) to rebuild immediately after the quake, while Hualien was allocated only NT$300 million.

The local leader said that laborers, engineers and cleanup crews had worked ceaselessly for six days to clear the debris of the quake, especially the toppled Marshal Hotel, where many of the victims were trapped. Clearing of the Yun Men Tsui Ti apartment complex, also irreparably damaged by the quake, is likewise nearing completion.

Premier William Lai (賴清德) rebuffed Fu (Lai was mayor of Tainan when the quake hit) saying that the city ultimately only received NT$90 million from the central government.

Lai emphasized that the government was ready to work side by side with Hualien officials in order to rebuild devastated areas and attract tourists.

For instance, the government said that they were readying funds totaling NT$5 million (approx. US$150,000) to subsidize individual travelers’ lodging for up to NT$500 per night. Another NT$5 million would provide subsidies to cover transportation costs.

Tourism associations are worried that the efforts might not be enough. Liang Ai-ti (梁愛迪), president of the Hualien County Hotel Tourism Association, estimated that an average of NT$4500 per capita is spent daily on area accommodation, sightseeing, souvenirs and other spending. Based on overall hotel cancellation rates of 60 percent following the quake, Liang said that the local economy is losing approximately NT$50 million per day.

Liang added that conservative estimates indicate that the tourism-dependent county could lose up to NT$800 million before the summer peak season arrives.

Chou Yung-hui (周永暉), head of the government Tourism Bureau, was more optimistic, saying that every NT$10 million the government provided in travel subsidies could generate nine times more in related revenue. Chou estimated that Tourism Bureau subsidies could generate up to NT$500 million.

Chou said that the subsidies, which may total up to NT$200 million, could be made available by early March.

In addition, the bureau has made NT$30 million available in credit for hotel proprietors to help them remain solvent.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet is readying NT$210 million for the reconstruction of public infrastructure including bridges, schools and other facilities.

Minister without portfolio Chen Mei-ling (陳美伶) implored local school officials to examine school grounds for quake damage and have relocation plans in place to ensure that children have a safe place to learn when the school year resumes. She added that the government would prioritize approval of quake reconstruction funds for schools, urging school officials to complete and send damage assessment reports as soon as possible.

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An unabridged, Chinese-language version of this article can be found here.

Editor: Morley J Weston