Terrifying Quake Shatters Taiwan’s Tourism Lifeline

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Hualien’s Tourism Crushed After Devastating Earthquake

On April 3, Taiwan was rocked by a 7.4 magnitude earthquake, the largest in 25 years. The epicenter was in Hualien County, a popular tourist destination renowned for its towering mountains and stunning waterfalls. Now, as residents grapple with the aftermath, the earthquake has left a gaping hole in Hualien’s economy, with tourism facing an uncertain future.

A Ghostly Echo of Tourism

Chen Rei-jia, a bed and breakfast owner, witnessed firsthand the devastating impact of the quake. “It was truly terrifying,” she said. “Now, we are facing a new challenge.”

Tourism is the lifeblood of Hualien, but in the wake of the earthquake, it has virtually ceased to exist. “There are no tourists,” said Chen. “Everyone is too scared to come.”

Empty Restaurants and Canceled Bookings

The brunt of the damage was felt in Hualien County, home to Taroko Gorge, a breathtaking natural wonder that attracts millions of visitors annually. However, the mountain roads and trails that once teemed with tourists are now blocked by rubble, and vast areas of the national park remain closed.

Lai, a restaurant owner near the gorge entrance, has witnessed the sudden emptiness firsthand. “Our restaurant used to be full,” she said. “Now, it’s always empty.”

Tour Guides Hit Hard

Local tour guides like Liang Shiun-chu have also suffered from the tourism decline. “Since the earthquake, all our bookings were canceled,” he said.

Liang and his colleagues are struggling to make ends meet and some have even resorted to driving taxis to supplement their income. The impact on the industry has been immense, with visits to Hualien’s scenic spots plummeting by 85% since last year.

A Bleak Future for Tourism

According to the Hualien Hotel Association, occupancy levels have fallen to just 5%. Howard Yeh, the manager of a local hostel, echoes this grim assessment. “Around 90% of foreign visitors to Hualien come specifically for Taroko Gorge,” he said. “With it closed, Hualien loses much of its appeal.”

Local officials estimate that it could take years for tourism to recover to pre-quake levels. “It might take five to 10 years for full recovery,” said Chang Chih-hsiang, director general of Hualien’s tourism department.

Efforts to Reclaim Tourism

To accelerate the recovery process, Taiwan’s government has introduced programs to support local businesses and encourage visitors to return. However, locals worry these measures may not be enough.

Stephanie Zhang, head of the Hualien Hotel Association, predicts that hotel occupancy levels will only reach 40-50% this summer. Negative media coverage and persistent aftershocks have eroded traveler confidence.

Accessibility Challenges

Accessing Hualien has also become more difficult. The road connecting Hualien to Taipei, from where most tourists originate, was damaged by the quake. Although the road is still open at certain times and the county is accessible by train and plane, the damage has taken its toll.

Broader Impact

The earthquake’s impact extends well beyond the tourism sector. Chang explained, “Tourism is the lifeblood of Hualien.” When tourism suffers, so does the region’s economy.

Local markets, which usually rely on residents’ spending, are also struggling. Cheng Wen-zhong, a market vendor, said, “If tourists don’t come, our business suffers significantly.” Lin Ya-mi, a fish vendor, has seen her sales drop by two-thirds.

Hope on the Horizon

Despite the challenges, Hualien’s residents cling to the hope that tourists will eventually return and life will return to normal. Lai Sui-er, the restaurant owner near Taroko Gorge, summed up the sentiment:

“If things don’t work out here, we’ll look elsewhere. We will find a way to make a living. There is hope.”

Data sourced from: cnbc.com