TAIWAN TURNS ON THE HALAL CHARM

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Published on January 07, 2019 with No Comments

How one island is wooing Muslim travellers.

Words ANIS RAMLI
Images TAIWAN TOURISM BUREAU KL OFFICE

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Taipei 101, Taipei City, was the world's tallest building between 2004 and 2010.

 

With 70 percent of the island covered in rugged, forested mountain with easily a lake, river and basin within reach, it comes as little surprise to anyone why Taiwan – with its diverse landscape – is among one of Southeast Asia’s top destinations.

Home to Sun Moon Lake, the largest body of water in Taiwan; Taroko Gorge, the marble canyon in Taroko National Park and the “Sea of Clouds” that hang over the Central Mountain Range, Taiwan is ridiculously stunning.

Now, the island is set to make itself even more endearing, particularly to Muslim travellers.

The government has embarked on an aggressive journey to encourage many major attractions including hotels to be Muslim-friendly while urging eateries to explore halal certification. With the country now ranked fifth on the list of Muslim-friendly non-OIC tourist destinations in the 2018 Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) report, Taiwan is leading the way to show that it is possible to have fun and remain observant to your faith.

Taipei is already known for being a Muslim-friendly destination, but the focus now has gone beyond the nation’s capital. At popular theme parks such as Leofoo Village in Hsinchu County and Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village near Sun Moon Lake – where rollercoasters, rapid rides and cultural entertainment make an ideal family outing – guests can now take a break in the park’s respective halal-certified eateries and also find prayer room facilities (musolla).

At the Fullon Hotel and Resorts Lihpao Land in Taichung, the property is trying to coax Muslim travellers to embrace the integrated resort trend. In its sprawling 200 hectares site – which makes it Taiwan’s biggest resort park – lies a land and water amusement park, a multi-level outlet mall, a world class racing and go-kart circuit and other modern leisure activities. Guests can hop from one activity to another and retire with ease at Fullon Hotel where rooms are equipped with prayer mats, prayer timetables and the Qiblah direction. “We were keen to capture the growing Muslim tourist market and the decision was made early on in 2018 to invest in a million dollar halal kitchen apart from making our rooms friendly to Muslims,” says Sonia Wu, Assistant Manager, Sales Department of Fullon Hotel and Resorts Lihpao Land. An extension of these efforts is the hotel’s Japanese restaurant, J San Izakaya, that provides a halal menu for Muslims, a dedicated Muslim eating area with separate tableware and a prayer room facility.

Much of the halal efforts by Taiwan’s government are a product of its “southbound policy” that seeks to boost relations with 16 South and Southeast Asian countries while simultaneously wooing visitors from Muslim-majority countries such as Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Indonesia. This is aided by Taiwan Tourism Bureau that works with Taiwan’s Chinese Muslim Association (CMA) to oversee the halal certification of restaurants, hotels and central kitchens. The bureau also provides subsidies for the acquisition of halal certification by restaurants and hotels to encourage them to improve or renovate their facilities to fulfill Muslim guests’ needs. To date, Taiwan has at least 324 certified halal restaurants located all over the country.

In addition to overseeing halal compliance, the Chinese Muslim Association actively engages stakeholders on Islam. When Palais de Chine Hotel Taipei sought to make their hotel Muslim-friendly, Tilly Chiu, Senior Sales Manager, expected the usual training on halal kitchen operations and food advice. She says, “They did that, of course. But we also learnt other aspects of the faith such as how pictures of living things are prohibited which really helped us in preparing our Muslim-friendly rooms.”

Travellers can also download the Halal TW app, designed to help Muslim tourists as well as residents explore Taiwan with peace of mind. Developed by a team of Muslim students from National Taiwan University of Science and Technology, the app helps users locate not just halal restaurants and nearby mosques and musolla, but shares for instance, halal food sections that can be found in local grocers. “We are continuously trying to optimise our info sharing, such as listing local attractions – popular places to see and activities to do – that are also shariah-compliant for an all-inclusive experience,” says Halal TW co-developer, Intan Dzikria. “It is important for us to ensure that when we talk about halal the public understands that it is more than just food and drinks – it also means ensuring all aspects of a the itinerary and activities are suitable for Muslims.” This, she says, involves seeking advice from Muslim scholars as well as the CMA to provide proper guidelines on all shariah-related matters. At the moment, Halal TW supports Mandarin, Bahasa and English. Plans are underway to upgrade the app to include Arabic and Urdu languages.

Ice Monster, considered by some as a Taiwanese institution, has gained much from being listed on Halal TW. At its flagship store on Zhongxiao E. Road, residents and tourists come for both the photos and shaved ice desserts. Its bestseller is a mango ice concoction made form pure mango juice and finished off with chunks of fresh mangoes. Josh Wang, Sales and Marketing Manager, said, “Our production process meets the halal criteria anyway, and so it just made sense for us to apply for the halal certification. Certainly with this move, it will allow us to provide better quality standards because halal essentially means a higher standard of food safety. And that, we believe, is good for everyone.”

With efforts from both the government and various stakeholders put in place to make Taiwan more Muslim friendly, the country certainly has charmed itself into the hearts of the traveller that seeks to balance fun and faith.

Muhibah thanks Taiwan Tourism Bureau for hosting the trip.

 

Royal Brunei Airlines flies Taipei 3x weekly for easy connections to other cities in Taiwan. Discover things to do in Taiwan in www.muhibah.com.bn

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