Editor’s Note: There are so many ways to advocate for Taiwan: on the streets with Keep Taiwan Free, in DC with organizations like the Formosan Association for Public Affairs, and, like Washington University in St. Louis freshman Vivienne Chang shows, in the classroom by incorporating thoughtful research and analysis on Taiwan into open-topic schoolwork. We were so moved by her decision to, in her words, “write every optional paper I get for each class about something that is related to Taiwan.” If you are inspired to do the same, or have also incorporated independent research on Taiwan into any of your schoolwork, we’d love to share your work!
The Taiwanese Tourism Bureau is a government agency under the Ministry of Transportation and Communications of Taiwan; they’re responsible for developing and executing tourism plans and policy for the country. Since its establishment in 1972, the agency has launched numerous advertisement campaigns in hopes to garner greater interest towards the country. The campaigns typically consist of a digital component, such as a video, as well as a physical component, such as the event hosted in Manhattan each year called Passport to Taiwan. In my research paper I will be specifically focusing on the videos of the advertising campaigns, comparing how the content has changed from 2006 to 2018, reflecting the perspective the Bureau hopes for how foreigners view Taiwan.
In 2006, the Tourism Bureau launched an advertising campaign called Ilha Formosa: Taiwan will Touch Your Heart, which includes a video on the various aspects of Taiwan. The program first begins with outlines of people which then morph into the letters that spell out “Taiwan”. The video then shifts over to clips of tourist attractions, such as the iconic Taipei 101 and Sun Moon Lake. Afterwards, picturesque scenes of nature appear on the screen. A flock of egrets, more commonly known as herons, fly across the lake followed by a picture of Penghu, an island shaped like a double heart. Various clips of cultural activities then appear on the screen such as the performance of pili, a traditional glove puppetry show, and the customs of an Aboriginal tribe. The video then features recreational activities, like going to the beach and mountain biking, followed by traditional foods like soup dumplings, hot pot, and beef noodle soup. Finally, pictures of people from all socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds appear smiling with the Taiwanese Tourism Bureau’s information displayed on the screen. All the while, the song “Ilha Formosa” is playing in the background.
The Bureau’s 2018 advertising campaign Touring Taiwan by Train, which has garnered over 15 million views on YouTube, also features a video showcasing various aspects of Taiwan. It first begins with a text message popping on the bottom right hand corner of the screen stating, “Made it to Taiwan!” with a clip of the Taoyuan International Airport in the background. The video continues to introduce Taiwan to the viewers through this text messaging format while showcasing various locations and things to do around the island. For instance, in the middle of the video, a person’s hand appears on the screen, straying over fields of grass. The text message “just discovered the aboriginal culture” pops up in the bottom right hand corner while a group of Aboriginal women sing and play the triangle while walking through the field of grass in the background. The words “Love me some culture [heart eyes emoji]” appears as the women dance. The video then ends with a train traveling through a forest with the words “Taiwan: The Heart of Asia” in the center of the screen.
Both the videos from the Tourism Bureau display aspects of Taiwanese culture that are meant to introduce the country as an appealing travel destination. With aspects of food, transportation, and culture in each video, the Bureau hopes to market the country as one rich with culture and activities. However, closer analysis suggests that the agency in 2018 may be marketing tourism in Taiwan as a photo opportunity rather than a cultural experience. The 2006 video places more emphasis on food, culture, and experiencing Taiwan for oneself. However, the 2018 advertisement draws attention to speed and modernity of the country that have the ability to produce many “Instagrammable” opportunities, taking photos deemed worthy of posting.
Local cuisine is an essential component in Taiwanese culture, as represented in both tourism videos. The foods included in the videos vary widely – from the street vendors at night markets selling local eats to fine dining. One thing stays certain, there is an appreciation that has yet to be developed for the cuisine. However, in recent years, instead of marketing Taiwan’s local eats, the Bureau has placed emphasis on food that looks delicious on camera but may ultimately lack cultural authenticity. One of the most prominent examples is in the Bureau’s introduction of boba or milk tea, originally founded in Taiwan and is thought to be the symbol of the country. Traditionally made of milk, tea, and tapioca pearls, boba is considered as one of the most popular drinks across the world today. However, there are vast differences in the representation of the drink in the 2006 advertising campaign in comparison to the 2018 direction, losing some cultural significance in the process.
In the 2006 advertising campaign, the video showcases the making of the drink instead of the final “look,” the arguably photogenic appeal of boba. The ad first showcases a tin machine shaking up and mixing the ingredients together. The mixture is then poured from the tin can into a glass cup. Showcasing the process of making the drink in the video emphasizes the Bureau’s attention to cultural experience. It brings the viewers along to understand how boba is authentically made instead of just displaying the final product.
It seems to suggest the vast opportunities to take pictures in Taiwan as one food item can produce four “Instagrammable” photos.
However, in the 2018 campaign’s representation of boba, there is an extremely different representation of this symbol of Taiwan. The video showcases four variations of “boba” in succession after setting the scene of being in a brightly lit and colorful night market. The first clip is that of an artificially looking green drink that ombres from light to dark with lychee chunks on the bottom. The second is that of another artificially colored drink, this time a bright red liquid, doubling up on toppings with lychee chunks and tapioca pearls. The third is of a more traditionally looking milk tea that has tapioca pearls floating on the top and sunk at the bottom of the cup. And finally, the last clip is of an ominous ombre blue drink with a red maraschino cherry on top with lychee chunks. None of these drinks have the appearance of an authentic boba drink, whether that is because of its artificial coloring or its use of too many toppings. In addition, its rapid succession of clips, as well as the colorfulness of the drink seems to be pointing out all the photo options one can have just a from a single food item. It seems to suggest the vast opportunities to take pictures in Taiwan as one food item can produce four “Instagrammable” photos. This modernized approach to introducing boba is culturally callusing, carelessly treating the culture of Taiwan as a photo opportunity instead of a collection of experiences with rich historical significance.
Tourism in Taiwan has become marketed as a photo opportunity, as showcased in the changes in content and emphasis the Taiwanese Tourism Bureau’s 2006 campaign compared to that of 2018’s. Tourists are not expected to gain a cultural understanding after the visit to the country – the pictures are what counts. The 2018 video showcased a plethora of photo opportunities with its picturesque inauthentic cuisine without displaying the process of how the food came to be, as the 2006 video depicted.
However, there is no real evidence that by having advertising campaign videos such as the one the Taiwanese Tourism Bureau has released is effective in achieving its goals – whether that be the mission in 2006 for tourists to immerse oneself into the Formosan culture or that in 2018 where the Bureau encouraged tourists to go to picturesque locations. Therefore, I consulted Jane Tung’s article “Key Success Factor in Implementing Marketing Strategies in Tourism Industry” to further understand whether the videos implemented such strategies for it to be effective. Although the article does not touch on the strategies used by the Bureau specifically, Tung is a professor at Taiwan’s National Chi Nan University and conducted her research through Taiwanese travel agencies.
Tung explains that the most important strategy in marketing for the tourism industry is market information collection. As a key component in market determination, the strategy involves acquiring information specific to the target audience and aiming all efforts towards them. The breakdown of potential markets was showcased distinctively in the 2018 advertisement campaign, whereas in the 2006 video, there seems to be weak execution of such strategy. In 2018, the Bureau implemented the use of text messaging throughout the video acting as both captions and descriptors. In fact, the first thing the audience sees on the screen is the caption “Made it to Taiwan!” with an airplane flying above and the view of the Taoyuan International Airport terminal. Text messaging is often seen as the symbol of the progressive 21st century as well as the face of the new generation. Therefore, the 2018 video seems to identify their market as millennials who are deeply connected with their social circles – texting and posting about their travels. On the other hand, the 2006 campaign by the Bureau seems to lack the strong market identification demonstrated by the 2018 campaign. In 2006, there doesn’t seem to be a segmented audience the agency wants to target as it displays footage from all the different things one can experience in Taiwan. For instance, the campaign includes clips of nature historically used to target older generations, bar-hopping used to target millennials, and street eats used to target low-budget travelers. Regardless of how accurate its depiction of Taiwan is, the 2006 campaign’s failure to identify its target may render the video as less effective in advertising tourism when comparing it to the 2018 advertisement.
Therefore, the main message of tourism in Taiwan being a photographic opportunity is more pronounced than that of an experience-based vacation.
In accordance with Tung’s argument that the most effective strategy of a marketing campaign is to define the market using market information collection, the 2018 advertisement campaign seems to be more effective in doing so than the 2006 one. Therefore, the main message of tourism in Taiwan being a photographic opportunity is more pronounced than that of a experience-based vacation.
However, throughout the 2018 advertisement campaign, the reason for why these photo opportunities exist is because of the destination or attractive product the visitor is holding. Often times the product comes in the form of souvenirs as it also another means to “show-off” one’s vacation other than posting pictures. According to Jo-Hui Lin, Yi-Ting Chang, and Yu-Ru Tsai of Taiwan’s National Chiayi University, “shopping is a good way to experience a different culture and purchasing souvenirs provides a way to evoke journey memories when tourists return home and remember their travel experiences”. Their article “Explore the Locality and Meaning of Tourist Souvenirs: Evidence from Taiwan” explores what “locality” means in souvenirs as well as its capacity for visitors to understand the culture of the destination.
The article explains that the word “local” is often used to describe “food, festival, or policy” rather than materialistic goods. Therefore, in order to adapt this concept to an item, such as a souvenir, the seller must transfer “‘local characteristics’ into tourism souvenirs appropriately” (Lin et. al 80). When done so correctly, it can “strengthen the link between local features and tourists’ experience, and then extend the timeliness of tourist’s memories” (Lin et. al 80). However, the authors point out that many of the souvenirs now are mass produced for maximizing profit. In doing so, it creates cookie-cutter memorandum that are not necessarily representative of the individual experience at the location. They seek to capture the generic outlook in order to relate to a wider audience, thus creating a uniformed cultural experience for all. This uniformity is showcased in the 2018 Bureau’s advertising campaign. In the trip to the night market, the video showcased eight varieties of food. This is significantly less than the number of dishes showcased in the 2006 marketing advertisement: twenty-three. The 2006 video suggests that visitors can create their own experience at the night market due to the sheer variety offered – one does not have to consume only the iconic dishes but also ones that may not be as well-known. On the other hand, the 2018 campaign places a greater emphasis on fewer dishes which limits the amount of knowledge given to a potential tourist, thus creating uniformed experiences.
The article “Explore the Locality and Meaning of Tourist Souvenirs: Evidence from Taiwan” helps explain the 2018 campaign’s message of not needing to understand the culture when visiting. Their lack of variety showcased seems to generate a uniformed experience among tourists as it limits their scope of potential things to do. Tourism in Taiwan is one-size-fits-all as visitors are expected to have the same experience due to the limited amount of information the government presents to tourists. Understanding the culture is not necessary, it seems, as long as the photos of well-known and traveled destinations have been taken.
The uniformity of cultural experiences the 2018 campaign seems to be advocating for due to the lack of variety then calls for a greater attention to the experiences mentioned. Since there is a limited scope of places and activities done, each adventure should be precise and accurate to reality. Therefore, it is important to compare the advertisements in order to determine how realistic the videos are. However, having the 2006 campaign be the benchmark for measuring how realistic the representation of the activity is, in the 2018 video is not necessarily accurate. This is because the 2006 advertisement has not been proven to be an exact replica of Taiwan, rather it showcases the variety of what the country has to offer. Therefore, I utilized Chang Pong’s article “Taiwan Will Touch Your Heart” in order to act as the benchmark for this comparison. The article largely advocates for the tourism in Taiwan through its many descriptions of activities and experiences of the island. In addition, Pong claims that the country prides itself for its “humane touch” and “holistic experiential approach”, or one that “satisfy the human being’s five basic senses” (Pong).
One of the experiences that the Bureau claims is a must when visiting Taiwan is the National Palace Museum. Pong explains that the Museum houses over 700,000 pieces of ancient Chinese artifact, all of which are “a product of uncanny workmanship” (Pong 5). She explains that in order to understand each piece fully, one would have to “visit it every three months for about 30 years” (Pong 5). The appreciation one should derive from visiting the Museum is evident in Pong’s description. This perspective of the National Palace Museum is echoed in the 2006 advertisement clip of the destination. The video first showcases the glory of the structure of the museum itself, then scans over to that of a terracotta soldiers, and finally ending with the infamous The Jadeite Cabbage: a piece of jadeite carved into the shape of a Chinese cabbage head. There seems to be an underlying respect of such artifacts as the camera zooms close to the pieces to showcase its detailing.
However, in the 2018 campaign, the video of the National Palace Museum does not carry the same respect as the 2006 one has for the Museum. The first clip showcases the exterior of the Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum in Chiayi, Taiwan which is not the location the Museum is known for. Most of the important and well-recognized artifacts are in the Taipei location, its original location. It then scans over to a stone sculpture of Buddha and then to the infamous Meat-shaped Stone: a piece of banded jasper carved into the shape of a dongpo pork, a famous dish in Taiwan. On the bottom left hand of the screen, the words “Did you see the pork belly stone?” pop up, which is not the official name of the artifact. It then goes on to show the hands of the “viewer” holding a fork on one hand and a knife on the other. The text message, “Can I take a bite? [winky eye emoji]” pops up on the screen on the bottom right hand side. We then see a museum worker profusely shaking her head and hands, smiling a little, and bowing to us, the viewers. This artifact is considered as the most influential and popular piece in the National Palace Museum is often highly regarded as a must-see before leaving Taiwan. Therefore, the artifact is deeply respected by Taiwanese locals whose behavior is expected from visitors, as Pong’s description says so itself. However, this carelessness in not addressing the artifact name correctly as well as the misappropriation of wanting to eat this piece of art showcases how the 2018 campaign culturally callouses Taiwan’s image. When comparing it to that of Pong’s article about the National Palace Museum, the 2018 advertisement seems to be misrepresenting the destination as a place of fun and casualness instead of respect, as showcased in the 2006 video.
The content of two advertisement campaigns as released by the Taiwanese Tourism Bureau showcase its differences in the message the Bureau wants to portray to potential tourists. Although the 2006 Ilha Formosa: Taiwan Will Touch Your Heart campaign does not have a specified target market and thus does not have as strong of a message, the video represents the country well through its various depictions of activities and experiences. On the other hand, the 2018 Touring Taiwan by Train campaign depicts the country as a photo opportunity where visitors can have “easily digestible”, uniformed experiences. In addition, its misrepresentation of experiences is culturally callusing to Taiwan’s image. In recent years, the number of tourists in Taiwan has been growing. According to the Visitor Arrivals statistics by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, there were 3.5 million visitors in 2006 compared to the 11 million in 2018. It would be interesting and appropriate to investigate how that number reflects onto popular tourism sites. Did the number of tourists who visited Taipei 101, a must see in Taiwan, almost quadruple like that of visitor numbers? Or did it octuple based on the recent advertisement campaign that advocates for uniformity of experiences?
“2018 Visitor Arrivals by Year (1956~ )”. Tourism Bureau, M.O.T.C. Republic of China (Taiwan), 23 February 2019.
“Ilha Formosa – Taiwan Will Touch Your Heart”. YouTube, uploaded by taiwanhuayu, 13 October 2011.
Lin, Jo-Hui et. al. “Exploring the Locality and Meaning of Tourist Souvenirs: Evidence from Taiwan”. Multidisciplinary Academic Conference, 12 May 2018.
Pong, Chang. “Taiwan Will Touch Your Heart”. Ateneo de Manila University, 2015.
“Touring Taiwan by Train – 3 Min”. YouTube, uploaded by Taiwan Tourism Bureau, N.A., 29 March 2018, youtu.be/j9dtTfX7qOs.
Tung, Jane. “Key Success Factor in Implementing Marketing Strategies in Tourism Industry”. Pakistan Journal of Statistics, 2012.
Vivienne Chang is currently a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis, pursuing double majors in Economics & Strategy and Finance. She is an Executive Board member of their Taiwanese Student Organization (TSO) and was previously president of Junior Taiwanese American Student Association at her high school.