As Taiwan looks to attract more Muslim tourists, here’s a run down of six excellent reasons why they should come
By David Spencer
With the Chinese Communist Party seeking to shut off the flow of tourists to Taiwan, the DPP Government is looking to attract visitors from other parts of the world. As part of the Southbound Policy, the focus has therefore turned to Taiwan’s South-east Asian neighbors.
Many of these countries have majority Muslim populations and that is a demographic which is ripe for targeting. Tourism geared towards Muslim travelers is one of the fastest-growing tourism sectors in the world. The number of Muslim’s traveling overseas is expected to grow from 117 million in 2017 to 168 million by 2020 according to the Global Muslim Travel Index 2016. These travelers are expected to spend around US$200 billion (around NT$6 trillion) in 2020. That is a large and lucrative market.
However, many Muslim travelers do have some specific requirements which, given that Taiwan has a very small Muslim population of its own, have to be considered if they are going to visit Taiwan. Fortunately, Taiwan has done a pretty good job of addressing these, which is one of the reasons Muslim tourism numbers are growing. But there is still plenty of room for more, so here is a rundown of the top 6 reasons why Muslim travelers should visit Taiwan. If you can think of any more compelling reasons, why not share them with us on our Facebook or Twitter pages?
1. Visa-free travel
International travel can be difficult for Muslims from some parts of the world as hostility and islamophobia sees many facing prejudicial visa systems. Some countries, such as the USA, have banned tourists from certain Muslim countries altogether. But Taiwan continues to welcome Muslim travelers with open arms and is doing everything it can to make visiting Taiwan as easy as possible for them. This includes streamlining or offering Visa-free entry to visitors from a number of neighboring majority-Muslim countries.
Visa-free entry is now permitted from the Philippines, Thailand, and Brunei, as well as Malaysia and Singapore. In addition, visitors from Vietnam, Indonesia, Burma, Cambodia, and Laos, are all eligible for a visa waiver if they hold a valid US or Canadian visa. If they don’t, the application process for a visa has been streamlined and can now be carried out entirely online.
2. Easy availability of Halal Food
Once Muslim travelers have arrived in Taiwan, their first concern might be about finding Halal food. In the past, there have been some horror stories about visitors being forced to live off instant noodles for the duration of their stay. Fortunately, that is no longer necessary as Taiwan has been rapidly expanding the number of Halal restaurants available.
Overseen by Taiwan’s Chinese Muslim Association (CMA), Taiwan currently has at least 324 certified Halal restaurants located all over the country. All of these restaurants have a certificate to prove their Halal status usually displayed at the entrance. There is even an annual Halal Taiwan Expo event which takes place in June of each year. For more details of this and Halal restaurants, check our either the CMA or the Taiwan Halal Integrity Development Association.
3. Plenty of Vegetarian Food
Food is a big part of Taiwanese culture and while the number of eateries serving halal local dishes is growing, it is not the norm here at the moment. But that still doesn’t mean that Muslim visitors have to miss out because there is no shortage of vegetarian food in Taiwan thanks to the many Buddhists here who chose to shun meat altogether.
Vegetarian food in Taiwan is rich and varied and there are many local vegetarian dishes available. It certainly does not conform to the stereotype of vegetarian food as being boring and having limited options. Even at night markets, you can usually find offerings of vegetarian dishes. There is certainly no reason for Muslim travelers to be resorting to instant noodles in their hotel rooms.
4. Muslim-friendly hotels
With Taiwan’s renewed focus on attracting Muslim travelers, there are also a growing number of hotels that are catering to the needs of Muslim visitors. These hotels usually provide prayer rooms, Musalla facilities, ablutions, and toilets with water sprayers. Some also offer copies of the Koran and the Qibla (indicating the direction to which Muslim’s need to pray) in hotel rooms too.
Most hotels will reference these facilities on their websites, but you can also check with the CMA for their list of Muslim-friendly hotels. These are mostly based in the major cities of Taipei, New Taipei, Taichung, and Kaohsiung at the moment. They do also tend to be the more expensive hotels too. But both the number and price-bracket of hotels offering Muslim-friendly facilities is growing rapidly.
5. Multiple mosques and freedom to pray
Despite the fact that Taiwan’s Muslim population numbers only 60,000 and makes up just 0.3% of the country’s total population, there are a surprising number of Mosques situated across the country. There are currently eight mosques in total. Two of these, the Taipei Grand Mosque and the Taipei Cultural Mosque are in the capital, while there are also mosques in Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung.
In addition, visitors to the north of Taiwan can choose to visit either the Longgang Mosque or At-Taqwa Mosque in Taoyuan. Those in the south can head to the An-Nur Tongkang Mosque in Donggang to pray, while visitors to the East Coast can go to the Al-Falah Hualien Mosque. Perhaps even more important than this prevalence of mosques is the firmly held right to freedom of religion and freedom to pray in Taiwan. Public religious rituals are commonplace across the whole country and Muslims are free to pray just about anywhere they want to.
6. A rich culture and breathtaking scenery
While it is important that the needs of your faith are catered for when you are traveling overseas, many Muslim tourists do not wish to be defined by their religion and are looking for little more than the same great tourist experiences that every traveler wants. And one thing Taiwan can guarantee is a fantastic and unique experience for every visitor.
Whether you are planning to explore the bustling modern metropolis of Taipei, the stunning scenery of the Central Mountain Range and the East Coast, the unique cuisine of Taiwan’s night markets and restaurant culture, the wide-range of indigenous cultures which are believed to have the starting point for many Pacific cultures, or the myriad of other experiences Taiwan has on offer, there really is something for everyone here. And that is as true for Muslim visitors as everyone else.
(Courtesy: Taiwan News)