Taiwan open doors to Muslims

By: Shelley Shan

News Source: Taipei Times

More needs to be done to encourage Muslim visitors to visit Taiwan, Saudi Arabian travel industry representatives said, as the Tourism Bureau aims to attract more Muslim tourists.

Cathay Pacific Airways Riyadh-based sales and marketing manager Mazen Ibrahim Kabbout and several Cathay affiliated Saudi Arabian travel agents were this week invited by the bureau to visit Taiwan. It is the first time the bureau has invited Middle Eastern agents to explore business opportunities in Taiwan.

Taiwan needs to resolve visa issues if it wants to draw more tourists from Saudi Arabia, Kabbout said.

“All Arabs, especially Saudi Arabians, need to arrange visas before they come to Taiwan, but they do not have to arrange visas for Hong Kong or the Philippines. As such, it is easier for them to travel somewhere else,” he said, adding that Taiwan should waive visa requirements or make it visa-free for visitors who travel for a certain number of days.

Taiwan also needs more English or Arabic translators for tourists, as well as more Halal certified restaurants, Kabbout said

Tom Yang, president of Big 5 Tours Co, one of the nation’s 15 certified Arabic-language tour guides, said that almost all Arabic-language tour guides have other full-time jobs because they cannot sustain themselves as a guide for Middle Eastern tour groups.

The nation’s Arabic-language tour guides mainly come from three different sources, with the first of them being university graduates studying Arabic, Yang said.

Some former military attaches have studied Arabic while stationed in the Middle East and they have became certified Arabic-language tour guides on their return to Taiwan, Yang said.

The third source is Muslims living in Taiwan who have studied Arabic overseas on scholarships provided by mosques in Taiwan, Yang said.

Yang also said more flights between Taiwan and Middle Eastern countries were necessary.

Seoul has become a popular travel destination for Arabs because Korean Air and Saudi Arabian Airlines have launched direct flights between Seoul and Riyadh, Yang said.

Yang said the group was taken to Taiwan’s scenic destinations and tried mango shaved ice, as well as Taiwanese Halal food.

The bureau said the group also explored medical tourism opportunities with a visit to the Taipei Beitou Health Management Hospital.

National Chengchi University has the nation’s only Arabic-language and culture department. The number of graduates has declined from 40 in 2012 to 25 in 2014.

Bureau statistics showed the nation had about 200,000 visitors from Muslim-majority nations last year, up 11.1 percent from 2014.

The majority of Muslim tourists are from Southeast Asian nations.

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