The Royal Treatment
International Cruise Lines Lining Up to Visit Penghu
Text: Rick Charette
Photos: Vision Int’l, Penghu National Scenic Area
Up until just ten or so years ago, the pretty Penghu Islands, floating about midway in the Taiwan Strait, were pretty much known only to people living in Taiwan, including expatriates with a fondness for Taiwan offshore-island exploration. Other foreigners then started to come when word got out that some of Asia’s best windsurfing was to be enjoyed here. Even bigger change is now about to be launched, for the world’s cruise lines have become aware of the islands’ distinctive scenery and culture, a world apart from what you’ll experience in mainland Taiwan, and want to come a’calling.
Getting the Royal Treatment
Royal Caribbean International, the world’s largest cruise-line operator, has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Taiwan International Ports Co. to build a pier and terminal in Magong, Penghu’s main town, that will be able to handle its liners, including the Oasis of the Seas, the world’s largest. Royal Caribbean will invest over US$33 million in what is its first construction project in Asia, and is also formulating plans for a recreation area designed to further promote cruise tourism. The pier, which is to be 435 meters long, is expected to be put into service in the spring of 2016.
The existing Magong harbor facilities are at the same time being expanded and tourism infrastructure added. Discussions are also afoot regarding the building of a second pier, again in cooperation with Royal Caribbean. These plans have attracted the attention of other operators; the world’s major lines are intent on tapping into Asia’s rapidly expanding travel market. It is expected that, eventually, cruise ships will be bringing in as many as 8,000 to 10,000 visitors at a time.
The world’s major cruise-line operators are intent on tapping into Asia’s rapidly expanding travel market
At the MoU signing, John Tercek, Royal Caribbean vice president of commercial development, said a key reason in targeting Penghu is its proximity to two of the operator’s base ports, Hong Kong and Xiamen. Increased traffic is expected in the near future from these ports, and ships may call on Penghu from as far away as Beijing and Shanghai, which are experiencing cruise-tour passenger growth of 15 percent per year.
The Penghu Magic
So what is it about Penghu that is making the globe’s cruise-line operators feel like they’ve found hidden treasure? Said Tercek: “We think Penghu has attributes that can be marketed … It is quite an attractive place, with beautiful beaches, culture, and food. The ports in Taiwan proper have interesting stories, but Penghu is more like a resort.”
Here’s what Travel in Taiwan wrote in our most recent Feature article on the archipelago, The Penghu Pearls: Islands Close to Taiwan’s Heart, Yet a World Away, in our August 2013 issue:
“The Penghu Islands will be whatever you wish them to be. What is it you desire? Beach-action and water-play tour? Island-hopping tour? History tour? Seafood and fishing tour? … The islands are very much a world unto themselves, with a geology and culture wholly different from the Taiwan mainland. Characterized by small fishing ports and farm plots, the latter with earth-hugging crops such as peanuts, melons, and gourds because of the strong northern winter winds that blow down the Taiwan Strait, there are few towns, and just one “city,” Magong, population 56,000-plus. You’ll see coral reefs along the shorelines, fine coral-sand beaches, low walls of coral protecting crops, and countless old residences with coral used as a primary building material. … You’ll also see (huge volcanic) basalt columns, by the thousands.”
Virtually all international travel-guide publishers are enthusiastic boosters, including the Michelin Green Guide Taiwan, which bestows a coveted two-star rating:
“… a place of rare natural beauty, with dramatic seascapes, sandy beaches and gentle grass covered hills … famous for its sea birds, nesting sea turtles and other wildlife … It is historic as well, (with) abandoned forts, atmospheric temples, and traditional villages ….”
Get the picture? No need to wait until the cruise ships begin to roll in. There are regular flights from mainland Taiwan. For more info, visit taiwan.net.tw, www.penghu-nsa.gov.tw, andwww.penghu.gov.tw.