Making up for lost time
Taiwan might have been a little late on the scene - with Mice initiatives not getting under way until 2005 - but what a difference five years make.
The island hosted 91 international conferences last year, landing it in 32nd place in the International Congress and Conference Association world rankings in its report last year, up three places from the previous year. Taipei hosted 64 conferences to rank it seventh among Asian cities, bypassing Shanghai and Tokyo.
The successful hosting of the World Games in Kaohsiung and the 21st Summer Deaflympics Taipei lifted Taiwan's profile among international event organisers.
'Mice development in Taiwan is a collective effort from government authorities, professional conference organisers, customers and travel agents,' says Swire International Travel general manager Norman Meng.
Taiwan's Bureau of Foreign Trade has been actively developing the sector internationally under the 'Meet Taiwan' banner.
Improved cross-strait relations and direct air links have seen a surge in visitors from the mainland. For the first seven months of this year, visitor numbers shot up 79.7 per cent to 957,273, compared with the same period last year. Incentive travel is growing on the mainland and one recent success saw the Amway Group take 12,000 people to Taiwan on cruises.
'Cross-strait flights are an impetus to both tourism and Mice,' says Josef Dolp, who was managing director for Taiwan at Starwood Asia-Pacific Hotels & Resorts before transferring to Macau. 'The Taiwan government is keen to fly to additional mainland cities. This is good news, but consideration needs to be made for handling rapid growth and volume.'
Dolp says progress needs to be made on infrastructure, such as the expansion of Taoyuan International Airport and the high-speed direct link to downtown Taipei. 'It has been more than 10 years since the last international luxury hotel, Westin Taipei, opened. But we'll welcome the W Taipei opening later this year, followed by Le Meridien.'
Success has also meant a higher demand for seats on direct flights, with travellers still opting to fly via Hong Kong, says incentive trip specialist Jerry Chang, of Lion Travel Service. He says Taiwan still has some catching up to do in areas such as bilingual signage and customer service.
The opening of TWTC Nangang Exhibition Hall in 2008 eased the shortage of space as the venue was the only site catering to big events. As a result, hotels became an alternative for event planners and were equipped with lavish meeting facilities. For instance, W Taipei offers more than 2,833 square metres of space and will target high-end incentive and regional company gatherings, while the newly opened Crowne Plaza Kaohsiung features 20 multifunctional conference and banquet rooms.
The Taipei International Flora Expo is expected to draw eight million visitors over six months from November 6. Mice industry executives say the government should consider using the site to host more events.
The Bureau of Foreign Trade has offered organisers bidding for international conventions and exhibitions a subsidy of up to US$16,200 per event to cover travel expenses and related costs. The island's Tourism Bureau is also offering incentives and grants to attract foreign companies to hold their events in Taiwan.