Taiwan’s tourism rides high on Lunar New Year


Thirty-one-year-old sales executive Jenny Liu is flying to Bangkok during the Lunar New Year holiday along with five other family members.

They plan to spend around 10 days at a friend’s bungalow at Pattaya, the famous beach resort which is about a two-hour drive away from the Thai capital.

“I thought we would have to pay an extra 30 percent for tickets as air fares have all increased during the Lunar New Year,” Liu said. “But we managed to get normal fares because we booked as early as December.”

“It wasn’t that people didn’t have the money to travel last year, but they put plans on hold,” said Melody Wang, a public relations officer at Lion Travel Service Co. “Now, the travel spending spree has begun.”

Travel agencies including Lion Travel heaved a sigh of relief as they started to see business momentum pick up in the second half of last year. Expecting even brisker sales this Lunar New Year holiday, they said revenue could grow by about 20 percent over the same period last year.

“The economic sentiment is improving, and our packages for Lunar New Year are selling like hot cakes,” said Rex Huang, vice general manager of Phoenix Tours International, the only travel company that trades on the GRETAI Securities Market.

A recent survey from 1111 Job Bank shows that more than 80 percent of companies polled plan to pay out bonuses this year, up 17.5 percentage points from last year. Average bonuses — normally handed out before the Lunar New Year — increased to 1.73 months of wages from last year’s 1.47 months.

Bolstered by bullish business prospects, enterprises across different sectors — from chipmaker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co to carmaker Yulon Group — are planning to take hundreds of more staff this year.

As people have bigger bonuses to spend, Phoenix Tours was looking forward to selling more high-end tour packages.

Take the company’s Dubai package for instance. The six to eight-day trip to the “Miracle in the Desert” ranges from NT$140,000 (US$4,360) to NT$230,000.

These packages are good to go as long as at least two customers sign up.

Already, six clients have paid for a Dubai trip around the Lunar New Year to see its architectural marvels, including the recently opened Burj Dubai — the world’s tallest skyscraper — Huang said.

“The prices of tour packages to Dubai didn’t drop drastically even during the financial crisis, and more people have become increasingly aware of this destination,” he said. “The launch of high-end residences and other incredible architecture have further raised its international profile.”

And smart travelers like Liu were quick to make bookings before the festive season to avoid risking paying higher fares or changing destinations because of limited seats.

AirAsia Bhd, the largest low-cost carrier in Southeast Asia, has seen its loading rate rise to more than 80 percent for all threeof its Taiwan routes during the Lunar New Year.

The airline launched its Taipei-Kuala Lumpur flights last July and its Taipei-Bangkok flights last September. Last month, it introduced its newest route between Taipei and Malaysia’s Sabah.

Although the Taipei-Sabah route is new, its passenger loading rate for the Lunar New Year exceeded 84 percent, the company said.

“We wanted to increase daily frequencies during Lunar New Year in view of the overwhelming demand, but we couldn’t because we needed regulatory approval,” said Katheleen Tan, AirAsia’s senior vice president for the Asia-Pacific region.

Although latecomers may find that prices for Lunar New Year flights are higher, AirAsia’s fares are still about 20 percent lower than full-fledged carriers, Tan said.

Cross-strait direct flights are also booming, with both China Airlines and EVA Airways reporting full bookings.

Scheduled flights between Taiwan and China were formally launched on Aug. 31 last year. Last Lunar New Year, there were only chartered flights serving travelers.

“Flights to most mainland destinations have been sold out,” China Airlines spokesperson Bruce Chen said of the Lunar New Year’s demand.

Cross-strait flights are one of the best-selling routes for airlines, more so during Lunar New Year when hordes of Taiwanese businesspeople working in China return home for family reunions.

Chen said China Airlines was permitted to launch 46 extra flights during Lunar New Year to cope with the extra demand, and tickets have sold fast since the bookings began on Jan. 26.

The Civil Aeronautics Administration decided to increase the frequency of cross-strait direct flights from Feb. 1 to Feb. 28 to alleviate the tight supply.

An additional 100 cross-strait flights were permitted, with 51 flights flying to the Greater Shanghai area, including Shanghai, Hangzhou, Ningbo and Nanjing. The remaining flights cover Beijing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Fuzhou and Chengdu.