Over the past ten years, rural tourism has become a new type of agricultural management in Taiwan. At present, there are two different development models. One is for government projects that are supported by the central government. Such projects ask for the opinion of local government and farmer associations, and also consult farmers to see how willing they are to participate. To apply for financial support, a project has to follow the regulations governing rural tourism. The other model is a commercial project supported by a company's own budget. This usually takes the form of what is called a leisure farm. Although the number of leisure farms in Taiwan is increasing, most of them belong to commercial companies. An additional 31 leisure farms have been planned as government projects, but less than half are in operation right now.
Rural tourism has become an essential part of agricultural development, especially now that Taiwan adopted in 1998 a policy of two days off every other week.
Rural tourism has a positive impact on agricultural development, farmers' incomes and the standard of living in rural areas. However, one important issue is how to reach a consensus among local government, farmers' associations, and individual farmers on what kind of projects to promote, and how they should be funded and operated. Rebuilding farmers' faith in agriculture while Taiwan participates in the World Trade Organization (WTO) is an urgent task right now. We believe that a combination of rural tourism and leisure farms provides a good opportunity for farmers to meet this challenge.
The implementation of rural tourism should use leisure as a way of achieving agriculture development. Agriculture is the first aspect to be considered. This is then integrated with natural scenery, other tourist attractions and local culture. Rural tourism ensures benefits for farmers, but does not focus only on nature and the environment. It is also customer-oriented, and tries to provide an excellent service for visitors.
Planning for Rural Tourism
Each year, the central government allocates funds for counties that are willing to promote the development of rural tourism. Each county will then consider the planning applications based upon the particular agricultural specialities of that county, and the preferences of local farmers' associations. Budget allocations are from the top-down. The content of proposed projects is from the bottom-up. However, some local farmers' associations also propose a corresponding budget to enhance their involvement in planning rural tourism.
The planning process consists of: first, discussion of aims; then the analysis of relevant laws and regulations; thirdly, the evaluation of the potential of different areas and activities for agricultural tourism; fourthly, the selection of important categories and areas for detailed programs; fifthly, detailed development plans for different zones, and finally, an analysis of the economic returns and other benefits. The whole planning procedure is shown in Fig. 1.
Nantou county, located in the central part of Taiwan, will be used as a case study in this Bulletin. Nantou is a typical agricultural county with very little industry. Its resources include high-quality agricultural products, diverse landscapes and excellent water. Furthermore, seasonal changes add to the tourism potential of Nantou county. There are flowers and new leaves in spring, colorful maples in autumn, and snow in winter.
The total area of Nantou county is about 401,600 ha, of which about 134,500 ha are used for agricultural production. More than half the total population is involved in agriculture, including the production of rice, betelnut, tea, tobacco, sugarcane, vegetables, fruits and flowers. In 1996, Nantou county completed a comprehensive plan for rural tourism. This plan integrated many factors, including agricultural specialties, rural villages, and the natural environment. The planning project for the county was executed by professional researchers who spent one year on this task.
Their plan proposed five major development concepts ( Table 1) and 35 potential development areas. All areas were divided into three classes. (i.e., A, B, or C according to their priority). Thirteen areas were assigned to class A. In addition, Nantou County is planning to develop rural tourism in four towns and their surrounding areas. Two of these towns, Luku and Hsinyi, already have a range of tourism activities. Around Luku, attractions include a tour of tea-growing areas, visits to cultural and historic sites, and bamboo and edible wild vegetables ( Fig. 2). Around Hsinyi, tourists are drawn to plum orchards, vineyards, vegetable and flower farms and tea plantations ( Fig. 3). Both towns are now improving their tourist facilities, including walking trails through beautiful scenery ( Fig. 4 and Fig. 5).
The famous agricultural products of Luku are tea and bamboo shoots. Rural villages near the town are full of characteristic old buildings, and there are many kinds of traditional handicrafts. Meanwhile, farmers have been using their farmers' associations to organize leisure activities such as tours of tea or bamboo growing areas, and banquets with tea and music. Tourists taking part in these tours are able to experience various agricultural practices such as drying tea, tea ceremony, digging bamboo shoots, and bamboo handicrafts. The farmers' associations also arrange farm stays for visitors.
Hsinyi is well located on the new cross-island highway from the west to the east coast, and lies close to Jade Mountain, the highest mountain in Taiwan. The local culture of the (pre-Chinese) mountain* people, and spectacular local waterfalls are also major tourist attractions. As in Luku, the local farmers' association has organized a number of tourist activities centred around agricultural products such as Jade Mountain tea, plums, grapes, and bitter tea oil. Leisure programs cover a tour of plum production areas, including plum blossom in the spring, and a display of dancing and music by mountain people. Natural resources (such as forest, waterfalls and hot springs), add to the enjoyment of tourists who come to the area.
Planning of Rural Tourism
While there are some geographic and other differences between Luku and Hsinyi, the planning of rural tourism in each area was very similar.
Putting up Signboards
Signboards are necessary to show tourists what attractions are present and how to reach them. They are also needed to provide an explanation at the site. When deciding the position and design of a signboard, we must consider its educational function. Warning signs where caution is needed must be set up, to ensure visitors' safety.
Establishing Exhibition Places
Exhibitions can be divided into dynamic displays and static displays. Some general items suitable for display are characteristic agricultural products, folk heritage, and folk crafts. The type of display is dependent upon the budget and land available.
A good brochure for tourists provides information about different tourist facilities, including farm inns, restaurants and their prices.
Performances and Competitions
Performances and competitions can reinforce rural culture as well as providing an interesting event for visitors. Some examples are competitions to produce the best-quality tea or plums, the traditional Chinese tea ceremony, tea parties with music, and plum banquets.
Clothes or hats with a local logo can be a good souvenir for rural tourists. Local handicrafts are also a valid tool of promotion, and earn extra income for local people.
Promoting Recreational Routes
A tourist route which passes tourist farms and other attractions should be designated for visitors. Railroad stations, bus stations, bus stops and shopping areas can be used for the promotion of rural tourism, with posters and photographs, in order to attract visitors.
The planning of rural tourism in Luku and Hsinyi covers natural and cultural resources, land use, willingness of farmers to participate, potential number of visitors and adjacent recreational spots. After analyzing the above items, planning budgets were assigned for different areas and periods of time. An environmental impact assessment was also carried out. Both townships qualified for leisure agriculture development by the central government. The first and second development stages have been completed in both townships. Because of the positive response from local farmers, tourism not only increased the profitability of agriculture, but has also provided the general public with new recreational outlets.
In Luku, tea is the major crop and occupies the largest area of agricultural land. Other important crops include bamboo shoots and wild celery. With its mild weather (annual average temperatures are 23Â°C), Luku township offers recreational opportunities all year round. Shinyi is located in the central mountain range, and its peak tourist season is during the summer.
As in most of Taiwan's agricultural communities, the farmers' association is the most important organization, both in Luku and Shinyi. In each town, the farmers' association was used as the executive organization for developing and promoting rural tourism. Tourism farms with accommodation are becoming common in both areas.
The reasons why these two townships have been so active in the development of rural tourism are as follows:
- Both have a well-organized farmers' association, with a good financial foundation and full support from farmers.
- Both have natural resources which attract tourists from the city, including forested mountains, bamboo forest, waterfalls, hiking trails, and cultural monuments. They are quite different from other recreational areas, and provide a diversity of recreational experiences.
- Farmers' associations choose high-profit items and integrate supporting programs. For instance, local tea markets and exhibitions of tea, community celebrations, religious ceremonies, and farmers' fairs for promoting products are used as part of the rural tourism program.
- There are well-organized structures for administering rural tourism ( Fig. 6). Each township has its own operating committee to integrate all activities related to rural tourism ( Fig. 7). The committee is divided into different section for restaurants, farmstays etc. These committees help farmers plan and operate efficient tourism farms.
Environmental Impact of Rural Tourism
As in most countries, rural tourism in Taiwan is varied, reflecting diverse local resources and customs. Each type of leisure agriculture has a different impact on the environment.
Sightseeing farms emphasize participation in the agricultural production experience and recreational activities. There is a comparatively sight impact on the environment. However, it is important that farmers practice low-pollution production methods such as organic farming, in order to guarantee the safety of visitors.
In this type of farm, city dwellers share a small plot of land and cultivate it during weekends and holidays. It allows urban people to share in farming activities and enjoy the country landscape. Citizen farms should follow production methods which protect the environment.
Agricultural production, farming life, and the experience of rural culture are key points in educational farms. Such farms have little impact on the environment. However, they should pay attention to the safety of recreational facilities.
Health farms are where city dwellers stay to recover their health, often after an illness or operation. The main attractions are the natural landscape and farm accommo-dation. The safety aspect of sight-seeing, including warning signs where appropriate, should receive careful attention. In order to preserve the beauty of the landscape, ecological and related aspects should be considered when developing physical facilities or cutting forest.
Rural tourism does not encourage development on a large scale. On leisure farms where tourists share agricultural work, it is important for managers to use chemical pesticides and fertilizers carefully. A better way would be to implement organic agriculture. As to the disposal of sewage and other wastes, managers should follow the regulations of environment protection, to avoid environmental pollution caused by too many visitors.
In order to manage rural tourism efficiently, the government gathers opinions from farmers' associations and other organizations. When plans are submitted, the government checks each project item by item. Items checked include land ownership, tourism potential, water and soil conservation, environmental protection, construction permits, and the impact on agriculture and forestry. During the process of implementation, the government holds several public meetings to explain the program to farmers, and make sure that farmers' associations, and farmers follow the necessary regulations.
These regulations include safety precautions, pollution control, sanitation, hygiene for cooked meals and processed foods, and recreational quality. Through the successful implementation of rural tourism, the environment for producing and selling will be improved.
Once the tourist project has received all its legally required permits, the local government applies for funds from the central government to cover the cost of development. Sometimes farmers' associations propose a corresponding budget from their own funds. The implementation period is usually five years. The government also provides low-interest loans for farmers develop tourism farms, provided they can meet all the regulations.
Rural tourism is becoming popular in Taiwan among both farmers and visitors. It is becoming a new type of agricultural management for farmers. In view of the impact on farm incomes from international free trade, it is important to help farmers increase the profitability of their farms, as well as improving the quality of rural life.
Looking at the effect of rural tourism in Nantou county, not only has there been a development of tourist farms around Luku and Shinyi, but also local communities have been revitalized. The potential of rural tourism to attract visitors is strong, especially now that Taiwan is implementing a policy of two days off every other week. In future, the 35 recreational spots of Nantou county will be connected into a complete network which will integrate farmers, rural villages, and agriculture.
Mr. Hong was asked how priorities were decided when development areas are given a priority (A, B or C). On what basis is this decided? Is it the local resources which are the deciding factor, or the profitability, or is there some other factor? Mr. Hong replied that there are three considerations: the local resources (including the landscape, special products and the transport network); farmers' willingness to participate; and the extent of support from local farmers' associations.
Several participants were interested in the professional researchers who had carried out the task of preparing the county's rural tourism plan. One participant asked whether they acted as consultants, to give advice to local planners, or whether they were hired to do the whole planning project. Mr. Hong replied that they were hired on an annual contract which was funded by the central government.
Index of Images
Figure 1 Planning Procedure for Rural Tourism
Figure 2 Areas with Development Priority in Luku
Figure 3 Areas in Shinyi Given Priority in Development
Figure 4 Proposed Tourist Route System for Luku Township
Figure 5 Detailed Zoning of Rural Tourism in Shinyi Township
Figure 6 Main Organizations Involved in Management of Rural Tourism
Figure 7 Divisions of the Committee for Rural Tourism (Township Level)
Table 1 Activities and Facilities in Different Zones
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