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Taiwan – Rich in Mountain Landscapes and Mountain Tourism Potential

Taiwan is blessed with a richly diverse and variegated topography. Here, mountain peaks reaching nearly 4,000m in height rise fewer than 140km inland from the coastline. Moreover, Taiwan, which straddles the Tropic of Cancer, has the highest high-mountain density of any country in the same climate zone, with its 36,000 square kilometers of high-mountain terrain accounting for over two-thirds (70%) of total mountainous land.
Each of the 268 mountains that rise to over 3,000m in height is located in one of Taiwan’s five main mountain ranges. These include the Central Mountain Range (the island’s longest continuous range); the Coastal Mountain Range (to the east, along the Pacific Coast); the Alishan and Yushan Ranges (to the west); and the Xueshan Range (to the north). The Central Mountain Range, which spans nearly the entire north-south length of the island, is also known as the ‘Roof of Taiwan’ and ‘Backbone of Taiwan’. Although ‘Backbone of Taiwan’ in a narrow sense refers only to the Central Mountain Range, in a broader sense this term should include the Xueshan and Yushan Ranges as well. Actually, all five mountain ranges collectively meet the broadest definition of mountain backbone. For purposes of this program, ‘mountain backbone’ is used in its broadest sense, and refers to all five of Taiwan’s main mountain ranges.
Abrupt changes in elevation coupled with a humid and rain-prone climate that is typical of islands give Taiwan its four distinct seasons, sweeping diversity of flora and fauna, majestic mountain scenery, and wide range of meteorological conditions. A kaleidoscopic array of natural attractions and a diverse cultural tapestry that includes over a dozen vibrantly active indigenous Austronesian cultures help make Taiwan a uniquely attractive international travel destination.

Attuned to the Needs of both Mountain Tourism and Ecological Sustainability

The strong and positive potential of developing mountain tourism has been formally recognized by the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The 4th UNWTO Euro-Asian Mountain Tourism Conference underlined the importance of collective efforts in overcoming the challenges faced by mountain destinations, which include, among others, adapting to new consumer trends and market changes and diversifying tourism products to overcome seasonal market swings in ways that are both innovative and protective of natural and cultural resources. Despite the challenges, mountain tourism offers myriad downstream benefits such as instilling inclusive values, stimulating local economies, and improving overall quality of life. However, in order to realize these benefits, mountain tourism must be planned, developed, administered, and managed sustainably.
In the UNWTO report Sustainable Mountain Tourism – Opportunities for Local Communities (UNWTO, Dec. 2018), it is noted that “Mountain tourism has reached maturity and changed from a mass to a multi-niche market in traditional mountain tourism countries” and that “many visitors from emerging economies are discovering magnificent mountaintop views.” Moreover, the authors note that tourism “is often the only way to create wealth in mountain territories, yet its sustainability depends on the preservation of its environmental resources.”
Continuing, the report highlights climate, topography, scenery, and the seasonal cycle as factors that “determine the facilities and activities of mountain tourism, reflecting the strong interdependency between the mountain ecosystem and the mountain tourism system. Tourism development must therefore go hand in hand with protecting and preserving these resources to ensure tourism’s long-term growth and viability. Investments in tourism-related facilities can valorize these resources in terms of creating employment and income to the local residents of mountain regions.”

Summary

Although there is no doubt regarding the many tourism-development opportunities to be had from mountain tourism, pursuing these is fraught with challenges such as striking an equitable balance between administering sustainable tourism and stimulating economic and job growth, adapting to new tech / innovation-driven tourism preferences, and keeping in step with consumer trends. Furthermore, mountain tourism has been shifting increasingly toward small-group, in-depth tours with a principled emphasis on respect for the environment. This format should inform all future efforts to develop tourism in mountain areas.
Thus, in light of Taiwan’s high-mountain topography, myriad natural and cultural attractions, and well-established tourism-support infrastructures, promoting the development of mountain tourism may be expected to 1) bolster the long-term, sustainable growth of Taiwan’s tourism sector, 2) further raise Taiwan’s international visibility, and 3) affirm Taiwan as a recognized international destination for mountain tourism. The effort will attract mountain and outdoor-activity enthusiasts from around the world and will give the global community a fresh and positive new perspective on Taiwan.

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