Taiwan resort's marketing blitz nets Hong Kong tourists
Hotels cash in on Hongkongers' newfound interest in Kenting, aided by a popular film
The five-star Chateau Beach Resort at the southern tip of Taiwan - one of the island's priciest hotels with room rates averaging NT$5,000 (HK$1,300) a night - upgrades its guest rooms every year, with the next round set to cost NT$80 million.
The 15-year-old resort, which has its own beach, is also adding to its roster of water-related activities. And it belongs to a local hotel association in Kenting that goes on marketing offensives every year.
The hotel happens to be part of the original reason Hong Kong tourists started showing up en masse almost six years ago. Scenes of its guest rooms, which open onto a line of parasols on a tropical beach, featured in the blockbuster Taiwanese film Cape No7, which garnered fans across the strait and contributed heavily to Hong Kong's interest in Kenting.
The broader Kenting National Park resort area doesn't count how many Hong Kong tourists come through, but Taiwan's immigration agency says 55,392 arrived at nearby Kaohsiung International Airport last year, up from 44,108 in 2007, the year before the film came out. Arrivals to Taiwan's major international airport, which serves the capital Taipei, fell 39.7 per cent over the same period to 243,973 last year.
The 293-room hotel now sees 7,500 guests from Hong Kong and Macau a year, half of its visitors from outside Taiwan. They contributed NT$35 million, or 5 per cent of its annual income, general manager Tsai Te-hsiang said.
Kenting itself, a relatively inexpensive peninsula of sandy beaches, coral-festooned water and rocky coves that stays warm year-round, was keen to lure people from Hong Kong, he said.
"We're on the beach and the only one in Taiwan like that, a big difference from other hotels," Tsai said. "Our natural environment and climate also make guests fall in love with it. Transport is convenient at the moment, too. Drop-offs and pick-ups co-ordinate with flight schedules. And our prices here are cheaper compared with Hong Kong. Hong Kong is such a big city, with so many people. Here they can relax."
The hotel vies for Hong Kong tourists with 20 others in Kenting and 86 smaller guest houses. Hong Kong is just a 75-minute flight from the southern Taiwan port city of Kaohsiung, with Kenting a further 21/2 hours away by bus or taxi.
Carrie Ho, a 50-year-old investment bank research staffer from Hong Kong, chose to show seven friends from Canada Kenting in April last year because of its mild weather, convenience and novelty value. They spent five days, four nights and about NT$24,000 each. Their group booked a car from Kaohsiung and reached the beach without a hitch, Ho said.
Their next few days were spent sight-seeing and taking photos. "My friends from Canada didn't want to go too far because they had already travelled so long and had been before to Shanghai and Bangkok," she said.
Kenting was also more "modern" than other vacation spot candidates, she added. "I thought the scenic attractions and guesthouses would be kind of dirty, but they weren't," she said.
After seeing her Kenting posts on Facebook, several family members took their own five-day trip in September.
Hotel operators in Kenting plus surrounding Pingtung county, which is keen to attract more tourists from Hong Kong, are looking for ways to make the place livelier and more convenient.
The Chateau resort outdoes smaller, inland hotels by giving guests access to canoes and sailing boats. More activities are coming, including some aimed at children, Tsai said.
Other inns are also expanding or remodelling to draw tourists, including ones from Hong Kong, as the resort area's overall visitor count grows. The national park logged 6.34 million visitors in 2011 and seven million last year.
One inland guesthouse advertises a relaxing, European countryside theme. Other small inns work with diving instructors and one hotel has teamed up with Giant Manufacturing to rent high-end bikes.
Tsai's hotel has spotted car reservations as a service gap and has started to work with rental companies in Kaohsiung as its Hong Kong-Macau guest contingent grows faster than any other. "Then they can get right into a car from the airport after we've reserved it for them," Tsai said.
Airport service is nothing new to Kenting. The Maya House inn has arranged airport pick-ups and drop-offs for five years, but a year ago added a more unusual amenity for its Hong Kong guests.
"We've prepared electric bikes because Hong Kong visitors often can't get licences to drive in Taiwan," said Lin Shu-min, owner of the 10-year-old, 10-room inn that's 500 metres from the resort area's main road.
Mainland Chinese tourists, whose arrivals to Kaohsiung grew 43 per cent from June last year to 27,459 in September this year, also cannot get licences to drive in Taiwan.
Pingtung county joins Kaohsiung every year in helping promote the peninsula's hotels at the Hong Kong International Travel Fair. Based on traveller feedback, it now aims to add signage because Hong Kong visitors sometimes get lost, said Hsiao Yu-lung, from the county's information and tourism department.
Today's signs point to core scenic attractions but miss some lesser-known spots on the less-developed eastern and western sides of the peninsula. Local bus schedules are not posted along some of the routes, leaving some passengers with waits of up to an hour.
"A lot of young backpackers need a way to get more comprehensive information about transport and places to stay, plus introductions to places," Hsiao said. "But the spoken language and characters are essentially the same [in Hong Kong and Taiwan]. It's not a problem of, say, that you can't rent a car, but of knowing where you can do it."