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Okinawa reaches out to attract Taiwan tourists

Date Posted: 2004-09-24

Tourism spending power is catching the eye of Okinawa Prefecture officials, and they want a piece of the expanding Taiwan pie.

Government officials are establishing what they’re calling an ‘information stronghold’ at Naha International Airport, where thousands of Taiwanese tourists are transiting daily without spending any money in Okinawa. They’re enroute to Shanghai, China from Taipei, and they remain in the transit lounge while changing aircraft and paperwork is accomplished by the two airlines. The Taipei-Naha leg is flown by China Air, while Naha-Shanghai is aboard Chine East Airline.

A big screen television monitor is touting the sightseeing spots on Okinawa, as well as information on restaurants and souvenirs. Computers carry the attractions another step, providing detailed information.

When the flights began a year ago, only 786 passengers became Okinawa visitors. In July, nearly 4,000 joined the visitor line. Overall, tourism has been steadily increasing from Taiwan, with 29,000 checking in last year. There are also large numbers of businessmen traveling to Taipei-Naha-Shanghai route who’re investing in Chinese companies.

The agreement between Taipei and Shanghai allows visitors to stay in Okinawa for three days without a visa. Okinawa officials say only 25% are taking advantage of the opportunity. They’ve been studying the problem, and have identified some key problems as to why tourists are afraid to visit Naha.

Language barriers are the principal concern, with few Chinese speaking Japanese, and few Okinawans speaking English, which is more common internationally. The prefecture recognizes its need for more information in English, Chinese and Korean, and say they’re working on it. Teaching the shop owners some basic foreign language skills is a more difficult challenge for the prefecture.

Transforming Okinawa to a tourism mecca means making sure foreigners have more signs, information and other materials available. They know that easing fears will make tourists more likely to want to visit and stay in Okinawa. The prefecture’s first step of the information kiosks is needed, but officials agree more must be done to get visitors to leave the airport and go into the downtown areas.

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