Last updated: 08:00 PM ET, Mon March 30 2015

Taiwan’s Tourism Rising on Soft Adventure

Destination & Tourism | James Ruggia | March 30, 2015

Taiwan’s Tourism Rising on Soft Adventure

PHOTO: Taiwan invested along with the Giant Manufacturing Company in an extensive bike lane network. (Courtesy of Taiwan Tourism Bureau)

There’s a reason that Portuguese explorers called Taiwan Ilha Formosa or beautiful island when they first set eyes on it in the 17th century. Now others are discovering what the Portuguese saw. It probably took the emergence of short-haul markets among its Asian neighbors for Taiwan to be able to emphasize something beyond business travel to long haul markets such as the U.S.

Until recently, the only thing long-haul tourists seemed to care about in Taiwan were the 650,000 art treasures in Taipei’s National Museum. Asian travelers also came for that treasury as well as the destination’s natural resources and its Taipei nightlife. “The world is just waking up to Taiwan as one of Asia’s most compelling stops,” said Kai Speth, general manager of the Grand Hyatt Taipei. “It’s a country with a conscience and a soul. It’s where all Asia is going.”

According to the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, the number of visitors to Taiwan broke 8 million in 2013 and grew to 9 million in 2014. A lot of them are coming to experience what is arguably the world’s best Chinese food, the nightlife of Taipei, traditional Chinese arts and soft adventure. “Even people from mainland China come to Taiwan to experience the traditional Chinese culture that still thrives on the island,” said Alexandra Forster of Aviareps Tourism, which represents Taiwanese tourism in Europe.

The beauty of Taiwanese nature and its bounty of natural activities are rooted in the landscape. Taiwan is bisected by northeast Asia’s highest mountains that give it very swift rivers and sheer cliffs along the east coast. Thus it’s popular with trekkers, mountaineers, mountain bikers, kayakers, paragliders and surfers, offering each plenty of reasons to journey to Taiwan. Nature in the country has also become popular with the Taiwanese themselves who have begun to embrace health and wellness as a cultural ideal.

The country has created an extensive network of national parks, scenic areas and forest reserves. It’s also created a great network of bike lanes. “For the past several years, Taiwan has made a commitment to become the bicycling capital of the world,” said Todd Starnes, president of Washington State-based Bicycle Adventures.’ According to Starnes, the chairman and founder of Giant Manufacturing Co., Ltd., one of the world’s largest makers of bicycles by sales, decided that he would start biking as a retirement activity.

 “He jumped on a bike and rode around the island of Taiwan, only to realize that there existed little infrastructure for cycling. He then began giving both his time and his money to support local and national government agencies along with the Taiwan Tourism Bureau to create a cycling-friendly country. This was accomplished through the creation of bike lanes and bike paths, including the Danshui River Bike Path (30-60 KM, depending on one’s appetite). There are even designated bike paths veering through rice paddies,” said Starnes.

This year, Bicycle Adventures became the first international tour operator to offer guided tours of Taiwan by bicycle. Bicycle Adventures will launch its new Taiwan Bike Tour in 2015 with two scheduled 11-day departures: Oct. 24 and Nov. 7. The nearly all-inclusive rate per person double price is $3,945, with bicycle rental and most meals included.

 The itinerary begins with an airport pick-up in Taipei followed by a high speed train to Kaohsiung the next day on the southern part of the island. From there the north bound includes stops at culturally significant sites, including the National Center for Traditional Arts and the Lanyang Museum that was created when a Chinese cultural leader was exiled some years ago to Taiwan.

For serious cyclists, the itinerary averages about 74 kilometers a day of biking including the ups and downs and in-betweens of some of the island’s five vertical mountain ranges. This includes rides up to and through two national parks that reveal stunning canopies in near-rainforest settings of up to 8,000 feet. One of the biggest challenges will be an uphill ride in the Taroka Gorge, promised Starnes. “Our guests are welcome to try to ride all the way to the top. I didn’t make it.”

The Grand Hyatt Taipei’ three-night Tempting Taiwan package targets outdoors enthusiasts, design aficionados and value-minded travelers. Valid through Aug. 31 and priced at $1,625 for two guests, Tempting Taiwan features accommodation in a grand room, a tour of Yangmingshan National Park, tickets to the top of Taipei 101 (the world’s tallest skyscraper from 2004 to 2010), an NT $300 ValueCard for redemption at key outlets across the city and late check out.

Guests at the Grand Hyatt will find a completely refreshed property as it’s just completing a three-year renovation and will have its “Grand Re-Launch” on March 31. The hotel was completely stripped to its concrete bones and rebuilt from the ground up, including each of 853 rooms and suites, and much of the hotel’s back-of house infrastructure from electrical to air conditioning.

At about the size of Holland, it’s an incredibly easy destination to move about in logistically thanks to its great rail network. “It’s basically a 90-minute high speed rail trip from Taipei to Kaohsiung, north to south,” said Forster. “People don’t fly anymore and there’s English signage everywhere. English is also widely spoken.”

Another easy way to travel in the country is with the Taiwan Tour Bus, which offers some 71 guided tours to Taiwan’s major attractions including Yilan, the Northeast Coast, Yeliu, Yingge, Taichung, Lugang, Sun Moon Lake, Kaohsiung, Kending, Taroko Gorge, the Penghu Islands, Kinmen Islands and Matsu.

The Taiwan Tour Bus is a professional and customized program with chauffeur service and personal guides who speak Chinese, English or Japanese on half-day or one-day tours. This service can be reserved with just one to four travelers and tours are available on a daily basis.

Operated by local travel agencies since 2004, the Taiwan Tour Bus by Taiwan Tourism Bureau has served more than 1.3 million travelers, of which 60 percent are international tourists. The Taiwan Tourism Bureau, in collaboration with the Taiwan Tour Bus Association, has launched a “Taiwan Tour Bus Passport” with discounts of up to 40 percent. The Taiwan Tour Bus's Facebook page allows visitors to register for Taiwan Tour Bus packages.

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