Taiwan taps tea connoisseurs in bid to boost tourist industry


TAIPEI — The owner of the tea shop is warming to his theme. “You don’t have to change the leaves so often if they are of a high quality. These can be used up to six times,” he tells a group of Japanese tourists at his shop in Taipei.

The customers’ eyes are glued to his hands as he pours the liquid into small, Taiwanese-style teacups as part of his demonstration of how tea should be served on the island.

Ever since Chinese-style tea houses began to spring up a few years ago in Tokyo’s popular shopping districts like Omote-sando and Shibuya, Taiwanese tea has fascinated many young Japanese women. Now, more and more lovers of Chinese tea are heading to Taiwan to savor the local brew’s authentic taste.

Recognizing the growing interest, the Taiwanese government is trying to cash in on the popularity of tea in a bid to shore up its sluggish tourism industry.

According to the Taiwanese Transport Ministry’s Tourism Bureau, the industry has been hit by a series of setbacks, including a strong earthquake in 1999 and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks in the U.S.

As a result, the number of foreign visitors to Taiwan in 2001 dropped 0.81 percent from the previous year to 2,291,871.

Although an increase in the number of tourists from Japan and Hong Kong has helped stem the decline, the government is concerned over the impact of fewer visitors from Europe and the United States on the island’s tourism industry.

The number of American visitors, the third largest group by nationality, fell 5.04 percent in 2001 from the previous year, and French and Italian tourists marked double-digit declines.

“Because of the drop in the number of tourists, we have focused our marketing efforts on neighboring areas, for instance, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore,” said Lai Seh-Jen, deputy director general of the ministry’s Tourism Bureau.

The number of Japanese tourists to Taiwan, who account for the largest number of visitors, increased 6 percent to 970,741 last year, while tourists from Hong Kong, the second largest, rose 9.56 percent to 392,552.

As a result, the tourism bureau launched a new marketing campaign, targeting in particular Japan’s young female market.

“We’ve tried to tap into the new market because in the past, Taiwan only attracted middle-aged people,” Lai said.

The bureau has produced three commercial films showcasing Taiwan’s tea culture and the island’s traditional foot massages, and has adopted the slogan “Nippon no tsukare ni Taiwan.” (The answer to Japan’s fatigue — Taiwan).

“Having seen the results of our market survey, we wanted to create a new image of Taiwan,” Lai said. “When you think of tea, you think of Taiwan. We have confidence that the quality of Taiwanese tea is better than mainland Chinese tea.”

They have also started to promote study tours for students at Japanese high schools.

“We hope the number of Japanese visitors can reach 1 million this year,” she said, adding that the bureau is also offering prizes to encourage more people to visit Taiwan.

For example, the 600,000th Japanese visitor to the island, who arrived in August, was given a holiday in Taiwan worth 600,000 yen. The value of prizes will increase in tandem with visitor numbers.

“So, for the 1 millionth visitor from Japan, we are preparing a gift worth 1 million yen,” Lai said.