Taiwan rebuffs China tourist snub with record 2018 arrivals

A pro-independence group holds a banner outside Songshan Airport to protest the arrival of the Shanghai delegation for the Taipei-Shanghai forum in Taipei earlier this month. (AFP)
Updated 31 December 2018

Taiwan rebuffs China tourist snub with record 2018 arrivals

  • Beijing still sees Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified
  • The 11 millionth visitor, a Japanese doctor, arrived Sunday in what Taiwan’s tourism bureau described as ‘a new landmark’

TAIPEI: A record 11 million tourists have visited Taiwan in 2018, the government said Monday, a boon for the island as it courts holidaymakers across Asia to make up for a shortfall from China.
The number of Chinese mainlanders visiting Taiwan has dropped dramatically since the 2016 election of president Tsai Ing-wen who has refused to acknowledge Beijing’s stance that the island is part of “one China.”
Beijing still sees Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified, despite the two sides being ruled separately since the end of a civil war on the mainland in 1949.
China has cut off official communication with Tsai’s government and stepped up military and diplomatic pressure.
Tour group numbers from the mainland took a nosedive, sparking speculation that Beijing was deliberately turning off the taps to punish Taiwan for electing Tsai.
In response, Tsai’s government went on a charm offensive across Asia, launching advertising campaigns and making it easier for people to visit, particularly from South and Southeast Asia.
That strategy — dubbed the “southbound policy” — has reaped rewards.
The 11 millionth visitor, a Japanese doctor, arrived Sunday in what Taiwan’s tourism bureau described as “a new landmark.”
The island recorded 10.7 million arrivals in 2017 and 10.6 million in 2016.
The government has yet to release a full breakdown in nationalities for 2018.
Japanese and Chinese tourists still make up the bulk of arrivals.
But last year’s data showed the number of Chinese nationals coming to Taiwan had dropped from 4.18 million in 2015 to just 2.73 million in 2017.
Some 2.46 million people from the mainland visited in the first 11 months of 2018, suggesting that decline has continued.
In contrast, arrivals from Southeast Asia rose to 2.1 million in 2017 from 1.4 million in 2015, while Taiwan has also seen increases from across the rest of Asia.
Designed to make the island less economically dependent on Beijing, the “southbound policy” is aimed at ramping up business and cultural exchanges with 16 South and Southeast Asian countries, as well as Australia and New Zealand.
Last week 152 Vietnamese who arrived on group tours went missing with authorities suspecting them of coming to work illegally.
Around 400 tourists have previously gone missing under the program, according to the tourism bureau, although it is not clear how many of them have since been found.


Lebanon's Beit El Hamra is a home away from home

Beit El Hamra is located on the ground floor of a 1950s yellow villa. (Supplied)
Updated 13 December 2019

Lebanon's Beit El Hamra is a home away from home

  • The latest addition to Kamal Mouzawak’s mini-empire offers tranquility in one of the city’s busiest areas

BEIRUT: You get a sense that Kamal Mouzawak, one of Lebanon’s most fascinating social entrepreneurs, doesn’t like to stand still for too long. Since founding Souk El Tayeb in 2004, he has built a small but precise hospitality empire, one that has sought to transform people’s lives through food.

Originally a farmers’ market, Souk El Tayeb has grown to encompass a network of restaurants (called Tawlets) and guesthouses (Beits), and works to promote and preserve the culinary traditions, rural heritage and natural environment of Lebanon. It’s a mission that has proved extremely popular, particularly the Tawlet element, with its constantly changing menus and rotation of chefs.

In comparison to the other elements of the organization, Souk El Tayeb’s guesthouses are relatively new. The first — Beit Douma, a traditional 19th-century Lebanese house high up in the mountains of Batroun District — took three months to renovate and was opened in 2015. Beit Ammiq and Beit El Qamar followed the same year, but it was at Beit Douma that Mouzawak first combined architectural preservation with culinary tradition.

From its eclectic artwork and vintage furniture, to its original fabrics and confidently colorful wallpapers, it is a triumph of interior design. (Supplied)

Now Beit El Hamra, the latest addition to Souk El Tayeb’s collection of guesthouses, has opened in Beirut’s most cosmopolitan neighborhood. Located on the ground floor of a 1950s yellow villa, it has added a distinctive dose of style not only to Baalbeck Street but to Hamra as a whole.   

Much like Beit Douma, Beit El Hamra is exceptionally well curated. It has an attention to detail that is hard to find anywhere else in Lebanon, let alone in Beirut. From its eclectic artwork and vintage furniture, to its original fabrics and confidently colorful wallpapers, it is a triumph of interior design. There is not a single desultory object to be found and its two en-suite rooms have been adorned with carefully chosen ornaments. “It’s the small details that make a difference. It enhances the experience,” Mouzawak once told me.

Beit El Hamra is the latest addition to Souk El Tayeb’s collection of guesthouses. (Supplied)

Who would have thought that a color spectrum driven largely by dynamic yellows, reds and greens would be so homely? Who would have thought that two guest rooms lying in such close proximity to Tawlet El Hamra, the newest of Souk El Tayeb’s restaurants, would work? Yet they do. And they do so largely because, much like the organization’s other guesthouses, Beit El Hamra has been designed as a home away from home, not simply as a place to eat and sleep. That’s why fresh flowers and plants are dotted throughout, why a fireplace keeps you warm in the colder months, and why a courtyard garden provides a sense of serenity in an otherwise lively neighborhood.

There is also an enduring sense of space. The ceilings are high, the rooms large, the terraces long, and the garden expansive. There is a sense of grandeur, too, although the hustle and bustle of Hamra does occasionally creep in.

Beit El Hamra opened in Beirut’s most cosmopolitan neighborhood. (Supplied)

At the heart of it all, of course, is food. It’s almost impossible to separate Beit El Hamra from Tawlet El Hamra. They are, in essence, one and the same thing. Which is understandable considering Lebanese cuisine is central to everything Mouzawak and Souk El Tayeb have ever done. There is something wonderful about the original Tawlet in Mar Mikhael, which all but shuns the staples of popular Lebanese cuisine, favoring instead the food of the home. Its dishes are regional, seasonal, simple. There are stews and salads, pastries and desserts, all served as part of an all-encompassing daily buffet.

At Tawlet El Hamra, it’s different — although the commitment to taste and quality remains. There is no buffet, just an à-la-carte menu offering some of the finest food in Beirut. That means everything from eggs cooked in clay pots to batata harra, kibbeh batata, and oven-baked chicken with potatoes. Everything, as expected, tastes wonderful.

You get a sense that life is just as it should be at Beit El Hamra, and a large part of that is thanks to the staff. Friendly and attentive, yet quiet and unobtrusive, they are universally exceptional. It’s to them that Souk El Tayeb should doff its hat.