CORONAVIRUS/Travel industry looks to new operating styles to survive COVID-19
By Lee Hsin-Yin and Esme Chiang, CNA staff reporters
Taiwan's travel industry has been seeking new ways to generate sales in the hope of surviving the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced the suspension of most overseas tours and put a great financial burden on tour operators.
Phoenix Tours, one of Taiwan's main travel agencies, said it will diverse its business by opening a gym next month.
Dubbed "Fitnexx," the gym will feature more flexible use of its space and will allow only four customers to use its facilities per hour, at a price of NT$700 (US$24) per person, the travel agency said.
Phoenix General Manager Benjamin Pien (卞傑民) said the financial gap left by the halt of international travel is unlikely to be met quickly by operating domestic tours instead.
"(The industry) will not see full recovery as fast as it experienced after the SARS pandemic," Pien said.
He said his company has been tapping into the dining and accommodation markets in recent years, which could help spread its investments and create more resources that can be used by the company in the future.
Meanwhile, Lion Travel Service Co. is making adjustments by exploring lifestyle markets, said Chairman Wang Wen-chieh (王文傑).
Wang said the company, which has already closed 12 of its 80 retail stores so far this year, will continue to do so, downsizing to 50, while opening new stores that can be better tailored to customers' needs.
Lion Travel had previously focused on selling tour packages, but in the future, it will work with local governments, restaurants and souvenir providers to become more service-oriented for the domestic travel market, said Yu Kuo-chen (游國珍), the company chairman.
The company will relocate some retail stores in luxurious downtown districts to transportation hubs and scenic areas, which will reduce rent payments by 80 percent, Yu said.
Lion Travel's move is in line with the expectations of Tourism Bureau head Chang Shi-chung (張錫聰), who said the industry is changing its operating style to remain competitive.
One of the major travel initiatives from Lion Travel will be round-Taiwan cruises with Dream Cruises starting in October. It will provide four-to six-day tours departing from Keelung and calling at Tainan, Penghu, Kaohsiung and Hualien.
On domestic travel, Yu said, the company will offer more in-depth and customized tours, such as photography and biking tours.
In July, Taiwan became the first country in the world to restart cruise services since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the first island-hopping tour by the two companies began on July 26.
Since then, 12 such trips have been completed, taking 18,000 passengers to the outlying islands of Penghu, Matsu and Kinmen, according to the transport ministry.
Transform to adapt
Lion Travel expects to take two years to complete its shift in operating style, Yu said.
During that time, the travel market will depend on domestic demand and the company plans to expand its coach fleet from 60 to 100 by the end of 2020, he said.
Efforts for transformation are necessary, according to Chen Chia-yu (陳家瑜), an associate professor at Shih-Hsin University Department of Tourism.
Travel agencies must have the ability to develop unique travel packages and provide knowledge-intensive input, Chen said.
According to the Tourism Bureau, 18 travel agencies had applied for suspension of services, with another 30 disbanded altogether in the first eight months of 2020, together accounting for 1.5 percent of the total number of travel agencies in Taiwan.
The figures for such companies from the two categories were 16 and 25, respectively, in 2019, according to bureau data.
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