CHIAYI (Taiwan News) — After moving the annual conference and board meeting of the Asian Ecotourism Network (AEN) from its headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, to Chiayi County in central Taiwan, AEN Chairman Masaru Takayama said on Jan. 19 that he anticipates more collaboration with Taiwan to foster more responsible and sustainable tourism in the region.
“We have common tourism buyers in Europe and other places, so there are a lot of things we can do in terms of collaboration,” said Takayama during the conference. Apart from working as an ecotourism consultant and entrepreneur of a travel agency in Kyoto, Japan, Takayama serves a number of key positions in organizations, both at home and abroad, related to ecotourism and sustainable tours.
Founded in 2014, AEN is a platform for member organizations to work together at a regional scale. It also provides training programs and brings about business opportunities for members.
The Taiwan Ecotourism Association (TEA), an AEN member since 2016, organized the conference this year and arranged a three-day tour to Alishan mountain, a popular travel destination in Taiwan that boasts rich forestry and one of the three remaining forest railways in the world, from Jan. 21 to 23, as part of its effort to promote the development of ecotourism in Taiwan.
Speaking ahead of his second visit to Alishan, Takayama said he looked forward to experiencing the authentic local lifestyle of the region, especially that of the Tsou indigenous people. “This time I want to stay overnight and really talk to them (local residents). How they feel in relation with tourism; what they like or don’t like from tourism,” said Mr. Takayama.
“Since we have more experts within our tour group this time, I think it’ll be a good opportunity for us to see Taiwan from a different perspective,” said Mr. Takayama, referring to the AEN representatives from 12 nations that would join the tour and TEA members. “We can maybe give some input back to TEA or the visitor center here.”
Describing his first visit to Alishan three years ago as “unique” and “special”, Mr. Takayama said Alishan is not only brimming with natural resources, but it also features a rich cultural scene.
“I know that there has been a bit of Japanese influence, which I cannot feel at home. But it’s here. It’s an added flavor,” said Mr. Takayama. “I really feel, as a Japanese, like having re-discovered Taiwan from another perspective.”
The Alishan National Forest Recreation Area, located between an altitude of 2,000 to 2,700 meters in central Taiwan, is famous for the so-called “five wonders,” including the sunrise, sea of clouds, sunset, forest, and forest railway.
Alishan mountain has also been a living and sacred place for the Tsou people for thousands of years. During the Japanese colonial period, the area was developed by the empire for the valuable cypress and other forest resources.
In 2001, Alishan mountain was designated as a national forest recreation area, with an administration established to preserve the natural environment and in the meantime, promote sustainable tourism.