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Taiwan Goes Halal to Attract Muslim Tourists

TAIPEI – Halal dishes and hotels with prayer signs in worshipping rooms are becoming a new trend in East Asia. including in Taiwan, amid hopes to attract more Muslim tourists after the recent decline of Chinese visitors.

“We hope to be able to serve tourists, exchange students, or Muslims living in Taiwan. As Taiwanese we are proud of our food,” Louis Tsai, a spokesman for Super Qin Group, told the AFP on Wednesday.

The Taiwanese conglomerate group owns the Fried Chicken Master, a small restaurant close to Taipei’s landmark Chiang Kai-shek Memorial has adapted to the trend, selling a halal version of the snack, which is also a Taiwanese favorite.

Taiwan’s hot springs resorts and Gaia Hotel in mountainous Beitou, best-known for its natural pools, has also been providing guest rooms with prayer direction signs and prayer schedules.

Moreover, many of the resort’s minibars became alcohol-free and cakes don’t include pork-based gelatin. To obtain its halal certification, the hotel kitchen created a separate cooking and dining area for Muslim tourists.

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“Since the number of Chinese tourists has decreased, and southeast Asia is quite a sizable market with many Muslims, this is an area we have to actively pursue,” Jack Chang, Gaia’s operations manager, told AFP.

The change comes as Taiwanese-Chinese relations are evidently deteriorating and the Chinese authorities are turning off the taps to pressure Taiwan.

As a result, Taiwan is adhering to a new “southbound policy,” as the Taiwanese government calls it, by boosting the country’s relations with the south and southeast Asian countries, as well Oceania. This meant a growing number of tourists from Muslim-majority countries, such as Malaysia and Indonesia.

According to national statistics last year, Taiwan welcomed 30% more tourists from Southeast Asia than in the year before.

Greater Muslim Influence

Despite the new trend, Salahuding Ma, secretary general of the Chinese Muslim Association, the largest halal certification body in Taiwan, says it’s hard for the new wave of tourists to compete with their Chinese counterparts.

Taoism is the prevalent religion in Taiwan, with Muslims making up less than 2% of the population, but tourists who spoke to AFP said they were surprised how welcome they felt.

“I really like the natural scenery in Taiwan and the people are very nice,” said Ashma Bunlapho, 40, a Malay Muslim tourist from Patani on a five-day trip with her husband.

She found halal restaurants using Google Maps, including a shop selling beef noodle, a Taiwanese favorite, and felt free to pray where she chose, taking her mat with her to famous nature spots including Sun Moon Lake in central Taiwan.

Malaysian tourist Dean Idris said halal eats were easily accessible as he visited Taipei with his two young children, taking in the zoo, a night market, and a historic district close to the city’s best-known temple.

“I learned that Taiwan, Taipei especially, is actually Muslim-friendly,” he told AFP outside a mosque in the capital, where he had gone to pray.

On a recent visit to Istanbul, Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je met with Turkish lawmakers who want to fund the building of a third mosque in Taipei, according to the city government.