Capital Taipei has got it all, but new offerings and destinations are set to woo the business travel crowd.
Taiwan had a good pandemic, if anyone did. A medicine-led approach won plaudits for its technical achievements and balanced approach. At the same time, Taiwan took time out to reboot its fading tourism facilities, both physical and administrative. As a result, there has been considerable change since 2019, when Taipei was incubating a reputation for boutique tourism and as a novel meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE) destination. There is cause for business optimism in 2024 too, with 3 per cent growth predicted on the back of stronger exports and tech sales.
In September 2022, the fairly sclerotic Tourism Bureau was given a makeover and turned into the rebooted Tourism Administration. This means more influence and a bigger budget to drive development of the convention, exhibition and tourism industries.
Business visitors will receive an “open arms” welcome, according to MEET Taiwan’s latest promotional campaign, which offers deals on conferences, plus rail tickets and cash handouts of up to US$70 for individual business visitors who extend their stay. Generous individual and group “sightseeing” subsidy programmes are also afoot.
Partly in response to China banning its people from travelling to Taiwan in 2019 (a measure that was relaxed towards the end of 2023), the island has marketed itself instead to friendly neighbours such as Japan, South Korea, and Singapore. Other incentives have increased visitor traffic, especially from North America and the Middle East.
On the ground there has been a sharp increase in the quality and quantity of accommodation around transport and tourism hubs like Taipei Main Station, extending into entertainment districts like Ximending, with its Asian fashion, cosplay aesthetics, shopping, and cinemas.
In December last year, Taiwan welcomed its six millionth visitor, meaning it’s more than half way to pre-COVID levels. Meanwhile, the number of flights connecting to Taoyuan International airport are already at 80 per cent of those levels. The government has ambitions to double visitor numbers to 12 million next year, hence the importance of Taoyuan International’s Terminal 3, which is being marketed as the “Gateway to Asia.”
A US$3.1 billion project is expected to finish construction in 2026, which will highlight a new urban Aerotropolis in Taoyuan that has been quietly in the works since 2009, with luxe retail spaces, innovation hubs, and conference facilities. There is also a metro connection to Taipei and other cities in north Taiwan, reducing travel time between the city and airport to 35 minutes.
As one of the most populous and densely packed places in the world, Taipei has rolled out a number of megaprojects over recent years, the latest being Taipei Dome, aka the “Big Egg.” This baseball and concert events complex took nearly 25 years to build and hosted its first game in November.
Other new entrants include the Taipei Performing Arts Center, which opened a year ago in Shihlin – home to the famed street market – and is a dramatic monument to theatre with its iconic cube sticking out of the main building. It’s not far from the arts enclave of Huashan 1914 Creative Park, full of warehouse workshops and craft stores. Songshan Cultural and Creative Park has also put down a marker for creative expos and cool design stores, while Taiwan Contemporary Culture Lab (C-Lab) has been converted from an Air Force HQ into a space for creative collaboration and experimentation.
Even the skyline has changed in recent years. In Xinyi, Taipei 101 stands as an example of how the crazy idea of building the world’s tallest building in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones turned out to be so brilliantly transformative. Taipei 101 used to stand alone, but it is now ringed by towers like Taipei Nan Shan Plaza, with its rooftop bars, smart office space, and luxury malls.
Opposite is the new 31-floor Four Seasons hotel designed by Richard Rogers, which is set to open in 2025. Also, nearby is the soon-to-complete, emerald-green glass The Sky Taipei, providing more retail and performance space, plus two new luxury hotels from Hyatt and Andaz.
There are scenic hikes up Elephant Mountain for a view of the metropolis, hot spring hotels in Beitou, a coffee shop culture second to none, and events like the 24-hour Nuit Blanche, which magically turns the city into a night-time living museum.
You’ll also find some fantastic Michelin-approved food. The French restaurant guide focused on Taipei with a belated but much-appreciated Michelin street food guide. The number of listed establishments increases every year, with the current count at 35 starred restaurants, including two three-star venues. Highlights include Andre Chiang’s Raw, representative of contemporary Taiwanese-style cuisine, while Nordic-inspired MUME pushes boundaries with a futuristic interior. There’s also a plenitude of starred sushi houses in the old town area, and the full range of international cuisine on offer elsewhere.
Beyond the capital
While Taipei’s streets pulse with culture and cuisine, hot springs and spas, city-jungle hikes, and cocktail bars, Taiwan has doubled down as a travel destination by spreading investment beyond the capital.
New airports, convention centres and attractions offer brave new vistas, backed up by first-class transport. The fresh set of options provide greater opportunity and connections to business travellers, with much more to see and experience.
Following the recent expansion of Taichung International airport, a third terminal has been announced which could see the airport handling up to eight million passengers annually when it goes online. The terminal is expected to be the main gateway to central Taiwan and will feature a sleek, modern design, plus a shopping mall, hotel, and convention centre.
Meanwhile, there are plans to go ahead with an extension of the high-speed rail network to Pingtung, which means a 395km journey from north to south takes around 90 minutes – giving an idea of the size of Taiwan and how convenient it is to get around. Other business centres are also growing, and are worth a visit for business travellers to Taiwan.
Located in northwestern Taiwan, Hsinchu Science Park has the same sort of clout as Silicon Valley, as it’s home to some of the world’s leading technology companies involved in semiconductors, telecommunications, and optoelectronics. The “Windy City” is the ideal place to learn more about chip making and the TSMC Museum of Innovation reveals in 12 multimedia galleries how the world’s largest chip manufacturer operates.
Also recommended is a cycle along the city’s Coastal Scenic Area, to take in the wetlands of Xiangshan, with its mangroves, estuaries, and beaches. It has plenty of bird-watching platforms, lakes and if you take a slight detour to Nanliao Harbour, the reward is an unbeatable seafood dinner.
Taichung is the third biggest city, an hour from Taipei, and home to some of the world’s greatest companies, like Giant Bicycles and Pou Chen, which manufactures for Nike and Adidas and is the biggest contract sports shoemaker in the world.
Taichung is adding to its conference spaces with the International Convention and Exhibition Center, which is ensconced in a park and has a giant magic carpet roof. Construction is scheduled to end in 2024 and, after a second phase is completed, it’s expected to become the country’s largest exhibition venue.
Business aside, many believe Taichung is the most liveable city in Taiwan and it does have the best weather – perfect for the Taichung World Flora Expo, which is showing until April 2024. Around eight million people are expected to visit, attracted like bees to pollen by manicured gardens, exhibitions, and performances. It’s easy to get there since Taichung’s new metro system links to the country’s high-speed rail station for seamless travel.
Tainan is Taiwan’s first capital and the recently opened, multipurpose International Convention Center Tainan is conveniently located next to the high-speed rail station. The space has a retro-modern design, which references the city’s past glories and future as a tech hub.
Tainan is also possibly the cultural and culinary centre of the country. The city’s Anping Fort, built by the Dutch in 1634, provides a neat backdrop for a tour of the nation’s modern history. Travel planners can host events at Anping Tree House, a 19th century warehouse with Banyan trees sprouting out of it.
As for food, Tainan has five major night markets, so there is no excuse not to try traditional snacks such as danzai wheat noodles in a shrimp or pork broth, milkfish ball soup, and rice cakes. There are also plenty of cafes and bistros opened by a new generation of local and international gourmands who are cooking up a storm, such as Jai Mi Ba, for fusion noodles with shredded chicken and roasted beef tongue drizzled with truffle sauce.
Before the pandemic, Kaohsiung had already made its pitch to be a leading MICE destination, and it performed well by producing a number of hybrid events. There has been considerable investment in Taiwan’s second-largest city and biggest port, with an expansion of the Kaohsiung Exhibition Center.
The first waterfront MICE venue in Taiwan melds with the city’s award-winning new harbour and provides a stunning backdrop of yachts and world-class venues and hotels. Spoil yourself and stay at the boutique Silks Club Hotel, in the revamped Kaohsiung Port and Cruise Terminal. The hotel puts an emphasis on smart devices and hospitality, while a Michelin-starred restaurant promises a great dining experience too.
Elsewhere, the Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum presents artefacts from all over Asia, while the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts has become a locus of local activity. A grand gesture of a project, the opera house, playhouse, recital hall, outdoor theatre, library and park make it the world’s largest performing arts centre.
Words: Jules Quartly