In a sense, Taiwan remains Asia’s biggest “unknown destination” for the meetings and incentives sector.
True, the island has been an economic powerhouse for a couple of decades, one of the so-called “Asian Tigers”, but until recently its focus was overwhelmingly on the exhibition sector of corporate events, where trade shows were used as a means to sell Taiwanese hi-tech products to the rest of the world. Meetings and incentives were not top of mind, but now this is changing.
One clearly positive change is the improved relations between Mainland China and the island, resulting in a huge leap in cross-strait air connections.
The arrival of a mega-incentive from Amway China April-May last year, bringing in some 12,000 delegates in several waves, is a measure of things to come.
The Amway China group consisted of their highest-earning salespeople, who were responsible for generating US$175,000 in sales each. The company makes around US$2.5billion in annual sales in Mainland China and its top people are motivated to the maximum. The choice of Taiwan was a vote of confidence in the island’s ability to deliver a quality experience.
Seven groups arrived on cruise ships, which arrived at Keelung Harbour over a two-month period. Each group consisted of 1,600 incentive winners.
The Amway China groups attended a two-day seminar before visiting Taipei, Taichung and Hualien.
Given the size of the group, innovative solutions had to be found for some elements in the programme. For example, facilities at the disused Taichung Airport in Shuinan were specially renovated and transformed into a banqueting and events venue.
This was the largest-ever contingent of visitors from Mainland China to visit Taiwan since inbound restrictions were eased on citizens of the People’s Republic of China.
Additionally, to speed up entry procedures at Keelung Harbour for the Amway groups, five officials from Keelung’s Border Affairs Corps, part of Taiwan’s immigration service, went to Shanghai where they boarded the cruise ship, Legend of the Seas, to check the travel documents of the passengers ahead of their arrival in Taiwan.
Easier travel makes it easier for regional meetings to head for Taiwan, knowing that Mainland Chinese delegates will find fewer problems attending.
Common backgrounds in culture, language and, of course, food make Mainland China an obvious potential market. However, Taiwan’s ambitions are rightly targeted more broadly across the region.
Richard Ko, CEO of Taipei-based professional conference organiser, Round Table, says that with visitors from 38 countries able to visit visa-free and the likelihood that this will increase is very advantageous to Taiwan in comparison with some other Asian destinations.
“We have to focus more on the Asian market,” he says. “Within a four-hour radius of Taiwan you have Japan, Korea, Mainland China and Hong Kong, as well as Singapore and the rest of Southeast Asia.”
However, Ko points to what he sees as one of the biggest problems for the events industry in Taiwan and a problem that overseas organisers need to be aware of.
“Frankly speaking, we don’t have a large enough number of high-quality hotel rooms in Taiwan to cater to large groups. We certainly have great hotels, but as a business destination, they run fairly high occupancies and don’t have the spare capacity that would be needed to welcome larger meeting or incentive groups.”
He adds: “So the ideal number of people for groups should be between 500 and 1,200. We are perfect for the medium-sized event.”
Government regulations also demand strict licensing of travel agents and operators. While this is positive in maintaining industry integrity, it also means that it is very difficult for niche inbound tour operators, such as destination management companies, to operate.
As a result, Ko says: “There is an imbalance between outbound and inbound groups, more Taiwanese go abroad in corporate groups than non-Taiwanese arrive.”
One solution, Ko believes, is for meeting planners to co-operate on events that rotate their chosen destinations around Asia, the association market being one obvious fit.
Ko says that Taiwan’s technological reputation is not only a draw in bringing groups to Taiwan, what he calls “the Taiwan factor” but these interests can also be worked into the programme in different ways.
For example, VIP speaker gifts and delegate giveaways and room drops can be things such as branded multi-gigabyte USB sticks and laser pointers for presentations. These are useful in themselves and also representative of “Brand Taiwan”.
Round Table has been involved in many medical and scientific events and a number have been held at the World Science Park in Hsinchu. The Science Park Life Hub in the centre of the park is a six-floor building offering dining options, art exhibitions as well as substantial conference and meeting space.
The park is 15 minutes from Hsinchu City centre and 50 minutes from Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport by road.
Another leading figure tirelessly promoting Taiwan to the corporate markets is Kitty Wong, owner of event specialist K&A International. She also sees Taiwan’s enormous potential.
“Taiwan has some of the greatest art treasures in the world on display in the National Palace Museum, there are spas and hot springs in the mountains, fantastic food and nightlife in the cities and tremendous natural beauty.”
Wong believes this mixture of culture, heritage, wellness and enjoyment is just what overseas organisers are looking for – if only they knew they could find them all in Taiwan.
The worldwide trend toward eco-tourism may just be the key to unlock Taiwan’s hidden potential. This is an island that may have built its recent wealth on manufacturing, electrical engineering and the IT boom, but it is also home to quiet rural areas, mountain retreats within easy reach of international airports and stunning scenery.
Since the island is compact and very accessible by air, road and by the high-speed rail network that stretches from Taipei to Kaohsiung, groups can easily take in a major city along with a greener element to their programme, such as a trip to Taroko Gorge, near Hualien in eastern Taiwan, or to the Sun-Moon Lake near Taichung in the centre of the island. These out-of-town excursions can take in nature reserves and national parks. Nature serves as a backdrop for contemplative meetings, green incentives or some active outdoor teambuilding activities.
Not far from Taipei, you can find affordable spa resorts and in the northern tip of the city itself, the Beitou district, you can find facilities that rival any spas found in Thailand or hot springs in Japan. These provide the perfect venue for letting your delegates relax after their conference or pamper your top incentive winners.
The southern port city of Kaohsiung, an ambitious rival of Taipei in many fields, is also stepping up its efforts to attract international events. Last year, it hosted the World Games in a new multimillion dollar sports stadium. Sporting events may offer corporate hospitality options, but aside from this, the city – Taiwan’s second largest – is also remaking parts of its dockside areas into new areas for meetings and banqueting. The city’s seafood is a particular favourite on group menus.
The economic potential for Taiwan to become a major events destination is enormous and is now recognised at all levels.
The Amway China event alone had a budget of US$14 million, covering food, accommodation, transport and gifts. On top of this company budget, the Amway winners themselves were estimated to have spent just a little under US$4 million during the duration of their stay. Sums like these give some indication that Taiwan may well be on the verge of an events bonanza.
Whale-watching in Yilan
Preserving our natural habitat is a task for all of us and many companies these days want to show their concern for the environment by bringing this element into their programmes.
Taiwan has many options, given its scenic hinterland, hills, forest and large parks cover much of the island. But offshore there are also natural treasures.
You can take your group to the east coast of Taiwan where the waters contain 29 species of cetaceans (whales and dolphins), comprising almost one half of the 60 cetacean species found worldwide. This great diversity makes Taiwan one of the hottest spots in the world for these aquatic mammals.
Whale-watching tours can be organised at a number of spots in Yilan County: Wushih, Nanfang-ao, Fenniaolin, Hualien, Chenggong and Fugang.
Each voyage is about three hours long. However, a true eco-tour isn’t simply being a passive spectator. Groups can take advantage of educational tours in marine ecology and fishery, with experts explaining why the ocean is critical to all of us. The tours can be complemented by enrolling the group in wider corporate social responsibility programmes for marine protection.
The group can also visit Nanfang-ao, a fishing port located in southeastern Yilan. It is the largest inshore fishery site in Taiwan, and the best spot to see all kinds of fishing boat, to visit fish markets and also to get a glimpse of Taiwanese traditional religious practices. Tourist resources nearby include Su-ao Cold Springs, Tofu Cape Scenic Area and Wulaokeng Creek.
Taiwan is well served by international flights. The main point of access for overseas visitors is Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport about 25 miles (40km) southwest of Taipei city centre. There are also some regional routes into Kaohsiung and Tainan airports. Negotiations have succeeded in dramatically easing flight restrictions between Taiwan and Mainland China.
Taiwan is sub-tropical but the climate varies from hot and humid in the south to cooler in the north and inland mountainous region. All over the country, sudden rain showers frequently occur, making rainwear an essential part of a visitor’s luggage. The driest time of year is autumn (September and October), which is followed by a short generally damp and chilly winter with snow on the island’s mountain peaks. Summer temperatures can reach 90?F (35?C) at the coast. Summer is also typhoon season.
Visitors from many Western countries do not need visas for stays of 30 day or less. Japanese citizens can stay up to 90 days. Citizens of most other countries can apply for a visa on landing, showing their return airline ticket.
For citizens of the People’s Republic of China there are special procedures that need to be followed. Check www.boca.gov.tw for further details.
Mandarin Chinese is the official language and some other Chinese dialects are widely used and understood. English and Japanese are widely spoken in hotels, major restaurants, airports and so on. However, utside of the major cities this may not be the case.
Taiwan MICE Project Office
A NATURAL CHOICE
Health supplement company Herbalife organised a regional programme for its leading distributors and chose Taiwan, one of its leading markets, as its host destination
Nearly 16,000 people attended the of “2009 Herbalife Asia Pacific Top Sales Executive Conference – Herbalife University” held in Taipei’s Nangang Exhibition Hall last September.
Leading sales executives and distributors from 12 Asia-Pacific territories Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, India and the Philippines gathered for a set of intensive programmes.
The Herbalife University includes training courses, a gala dinner, reception, opening ceremony, banquets, and three-day post-event tours.
This ambitious project required detailed organisation and the mobilisation of sufficient capacity on the part of the organiser and host country, especially given the record attendance. The previous event in Macau, by way of comparison, had attracted 8,000 people
Managing director of Herbalife Asia-Pacific, William M Rahn, said that one of the corporate aims of Herbalife was to give back to the community. Taiwan was chosen because of the importance Herbalife attached to the Asia-Pacific market and to reward the performance of the people at its Taiwan branch.
The second reason was the active support given by Taiwan’s Bureau of Foreign Trade (BOFT), which is part of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and Taiwan’s event professionals.
The BOFT assisted the Herbalife University with financial support, flexible visa arrangements and customs procedures for attendees, and provided welcome banners and tourism information at all venues.
During the bidding process, the people behind BOFT provided the Taiwan team with full support and services, including help with site inspections, a support letter from the Minister of Economic Affairs and event planning.
The scale of the Taiwanese economy and market potential was also a factor. Herbalife Taiwan generated the top sales performance of the entire Asia-Pacific region and ranked third worldwide. For the past five years, the Taiwanese Herbalife team had maintained an annual growth rate of 20 percent, placing Taiwan regularly among the top five markets for Herbalife globally.
The planning phase took Herbalife over a year. The total budget reached millions of US dollars and involved 400 people from 12 countries.
Upon the successful completion of the event, Herbalife’s Taiwan country manager Lu Kang-Chi praised Taiwan for proving its ability to host large-scale international events. She said she hoped that one day Taiwan would be able to host the 40,000 attendees who gather for the Herbalife global conferences.
Herbalife Taiwan worked with VISA, DFS, Taipei 101 Observatory, the National Palace Museum, among others to give attendees a taste of Taiwan, including the sightseeing, shopping and cultural experiences that the island can