The breakout of Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 has resulted in strict border controls in many countries and caused great loss to the tourist industry. According to the statistics of the Tourism Bureau, a total of 1,377,861 visitors came to Taiwan in 2020, with a decrease of 88.39% from 11.86 million in 2019. In terms of outbound travelers, the number in 2020 was 2,335,564, a decrease of about 86.34% compared with 17,101,335 in 2019. This shows that both the outbound and inbound markets of Taiwan's tourist industry have been hit hard, and the Tourism Bureau assesses that, in 2021, the number of visitors coming to Taiwan will not exceed 1 million, showing that it is difficult to see the high demand for tourism like before.
With the strict border control, demand for tourism remains and domestic tourism market still flourishes. The statistics of the Tourism Bureau estimates that after outbound tourism is redirected to the domestic market in 2020, the number of tourists can reach 210 million people, a record high in nearly 10 years. The 2020 library circulation record of New Taipei City Library indicates the amount of books checked out on the domain of domestic travel has outperformed that in 2019 by 143%. This shows that people love traveling and have chosen to take domestic trips when there are still restrictions for outbound tours.
There are already many travel agencies specialized in domestic travel management. However, over 90% tourists prefer free individual travel. With the impact of the pandemic, nearly 4,000 travel agencies are now competing in the limited domestic market. The relief subsidies from the government were soon exhausted. It has become a hard lesson to survive in the most difficult period.
II. Innovative strategies to respond to the Covid-19
Tourism is a diverse and integrated experience of integrating dining, shopping, dwelling, transportation, and entertainment. The writer's observation is that the Covid-19 has provided a chance to transform the crisis of the pandemic into a turning point. The large number of travel agencies new in the domestic market has resulted in some innovative ideas exhibited in the design of tourism products. This leads us to reconsider the value of tourism in Taiwan in the post-epidemic era. The following is a summary the writer made on the innovative strategies of domestic tour management in the post-pandemic era of 2020:
1. Transportation as a highlight of the domestic tourism
In the past, transportation served only the purpose of connecting the points of attraction. The impact of the pandemic on the aviation and the cruise industries has developed the "pseudo-travel" programs, in which transportation is no longer means of transportation. The programs may include flight experience, exquisite meal served, and visits to air traffic control areas, providing some special experience to customers who are curious about air travel or airport management. Cruise itineraries, which used to be arranged for overseas trips, now have domestic island-hopping itineraries. This gives customers the chance to experience cruise trips without going abroad and also helps reduce the pressure of limited capacity of domestic flights serving offshore island destinations. The impact has also contributed to enhancing the quality of railway tourism. The Chukuang express train, with over 70 years of history, started to bear the new name “Future” as a designated five-star tourist train. The redesigned interior won the “Good Design Award” in Japan in 2020. The service started on the new year eve of 2021, with different itineraries designed for each trip over the year to incorporate the beauty and culture of Taiwan in different seasons so that passengers get different experience each time they take the trip. All the trips are fully booked despite the relatively high prices.
2. High-quality itineraries emerged
The border lockdown resulted by the Covid-19 has unexpectedly benefited the domestic high-end tourist market. The output value of high-end domestic tourism in 2020, according to Huang Cheng-Tsung, Associate Professor of Department of Tourism at Providence University, was about NT$2 billion, is estimated to grow by 50% to NT$3 billion in 2021. Many consumers redirected their overseas travel plans to domestic programs. They are looking for better and more special travel experience. A Japanese-style hot spring hotel in central Taiwan features hot spring healing, mountain views, exquisite cuisines, and local experience activities, to achieve true uniqueness, is fully booked every day despite its astonishing high price of NT$60,000 for a 3D2N package. Besides, camping has become popular throughout Taiwan. A camping package featuring local traditional craftsmanship, food, and natural ecology costs nearly NT$5,000 per person per day, with dinner and breakfast, has attracted a large number of young groups and families.
3. In-depth high-value programs developed
The unique experience and high value developed with the high rarity and low likelihood of alternation, has driven the development of in-depth programs. Located in the deep mountains of Hsinchu, Smangus is an indigenous tribe of cultural symbiosis. It features the beauty of Atayal culture and the giant tree forest. With the inconvenience of transportation, at least 3 hours away from the nearest township, it had not been a popular tourist destination until the breakout of the Covid-19, when it turned into a hot spot of exploration. Culture, life and tourism are closely connected. Some new travel agencies have developed in-depth guided tour packages for markets, hotels, coffee, and underground waterways. A half-day program without food costs nearly NT$1,000. The incorporation of games, hands-on activities, and educational elements has attracted many local people, who want to know more about their own hometown. This has also helped promote the consumption on local tourism and market.
The impact of Covid-19 on the global tourism industry is beyond measurement. In the worst time ever, however, the most flexible strategic plans and corresponding innovative measures based on one’s advantages are needed for survival’s sake. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, people were hesitant to travel even domestically. Still some travel agencies specialized in e-commerce started to make use of the information of the foreign customers and their consumption habits to develop cross-border e-commerce business by exporting food items like pork jerky, egg yolk crisps, fruits, etc. to Japan and Korea. It has been an unexpected success, which accounts for 50% of their overseas market.
With the amount of business cut down during the border lockdown, it is time to reevaluate the current business models and plan for related risk management to meet future industry trends. For instance, with higher customer stickiness to cell phones, functions of mobile devices can be made good use of and the existing third-party APPs on the market can be enhanced. Another issue is the strategy to maintain and enhance the domestic tourist market even after the reopening of outbound tourism. The one to quickly restore the prosperity after the pandemic is over is the true winner in this market battle.