Friday, June 10, 2011

Us and Them among Tourists in Taiwan

Tourists are humans and tend to behave as any other human social animal.  One human behavioral characteristic is to form social groups that include some (“Us”) and exclude other (“Them”).

I saw this recently during my second visit to Taiwan in the past eight months.  I went to Sun Moon Lake in the central Taiwan mountains which is possibly the biggest single tourist attraction in Taiwan for mainland Chinese tourists.  In the last couple of months, mainland Chinese tourists have become the largest single source of tourists to Taiwan, replacing Japanese tourists who have declined considerably following the earthquake and tsunami. Almost all Chinese tourists tour Taiwan on package group tours, and it seems that most of those tours include Sun Moon Lake.  We saw the following statistics on display at the new, post-modern Sun Moon Lake Visitors Center:

Growth in Mainland Chinese to Taiwan & Sun Moon Lake

YearNumber% visiting Sun Moon Lake
2008 – 89,970 – 74.2%
2009 – 600,969 – 92.5%
2010 – 1,165,549 – 98.8%

The growth has been quite phenomenal, and there was a news story a couple of weeks ago about how the Taiwan stock market is has been strong due to the large number of mainland Chinese tourists expected this year.

What I was told by my hosts/guides was that because so many mainlanders now go to Sun Moon Lake, other tourist groups have stopped going there. The two other groups, in particular, that have largely (not completely) stopped going to Sun Moon Lake are the domestic Taiwan tourists and the Japanese tourists. There are some districts and sites in Taipei that I have been to that are mostly Japanese, including a Cantonese restaurant where we had to wait to with mostly Japanese people out on the sidewalk to get a seat.  Many of them were holding Japanese guidebooks of various kinds that recommended the restaurant.  I really liked the food, which had a uniquely Japanese delicacy to it.

There are other places in the world where visitors segregate based on culture and ethnicity.  There are Mediterranean resort islands that are almost all German-speaking next to an island that is all French-speaking, for example.  And most of the tourists to Barbados in the Caribbean are British and Canadian, while visitors to nearby Martinique is mostly French, and St. Lucia is mostly American.

Most of this segregation is due to business efficiencies, though there is also some desire among some tourists to congregate with their own, which gives them a bubble of security, even when in a different country.  My hosts/guests, for example, told me that Taiwan domestic tourist avoid Sun Moon Lake because (1) it is too crowded and (2) occasional political conflicts between mainland and Taiwan Chinese. It seems to me that in some ways, Sun Moon Lake has become a sacrificial site for increased mainland Chinese tourism. 

Off hand, I do not know of similar examples here in the US where such ethnic separation in tourism is so clearly defined.  I would be interested to hear about such places if you know of any.  And I wonder if we might see this in the future as the US becomes ever more culturally diverse.

(Geography Note: Sun Moon Lake is actually a reservoir that was created on top of a wetland area with a smaller lake in which the local aboriginal Thao people fished.  The Japanese added some dams to make the original lake larger and to generate hydroelectric power when they ruled Taiwan (1989 to 1945), and the R.O.C. Taiwan government created the current version of the lake around 1970.)