Where will Penghu voters turn for help after rejecting gambling referendum? Part 2



In last Sunday’s program, we introduced both sides in the referendum to open up Penghu to the gaming industry, an idea that the county’s citizens firmly rejected in October, in the island chain’s second-ever referendum on the issue. But that vote still leaves the question of how Penghu can compensate for the drop in visitors during the island’s low season from October to May. One plan under consideration is to turn Penghu into a so-called “low-carbon island,” but that would definitely affect the county’s famous annual fireworks festival. Casino proponents felt there was actually no good alternative. The second part of our two-part special report. Penghu covers an area of 127 square kilometers and has 368 kilometers of coastline. The sandy beaches and beautiful views along that coastline are the Penghu County government’s main assets in its push to market the island chain as a tourist destination. Hsu Yao-binPenghu Tour Guides’ Association PresidentIt’s not okay for you not to see our basalt columns at least once in your life. Penghu is the only place in Taiwan that has them. Our Penghu is really special. Penghu also boasts a wealth of cultural assets in the form of old residences and historic temples. During peak season, visitors cram Magong’s Tianhou Temple, the nation’s oldest, but come low season, there’s hardly anyone to be seen there.Hsu Yao-bin is a longtime tour guide in Penghu. He says that every year starting in October, strong northeast monsoon winds typically bring a halt to all activities on and along the sea, prompting a sharp drop in tourists.Hsu Yao-binPenghu Tour Guides’ Association PresidentDuring autumn and winter, travelers stop coming, and of course these tour buses are empty. Whether you’re a driver, a travel agent, a tour guide, or a store owner, everyone prepares to take a long break when the northeast monsoon winds arrive.Penghu’s monsoon winds blow at between 17 and 27 knots on average, with gusts as strong as 71 knots, as strong as in a typhoon. Those gusts can be enough to topple trees and buildings.Wang Hsin-peiPenghu Tourism Dept. CommissionerTourist numbers drop sharply in fall and winter. In the low season, they are only about a quarter of what they are in the high season. With Penghu’s tourism industry long limited by its climate, the county government in 2003 launched a large-scale annual fireworks festival to boost visitor numbers. But in the last few years, the central government has begun actively promoting Penghu as an ecological, low-carbon island. Chuang Kuang-huiPenghu Pro-Gambling CoalitionOur fireworks festival and the plan to turn Penghu into a low-carbon island are mutually contradictory. The fireworks are extravagant and very costly, and the county alone doesn’t have the budgetary means to keep it going. 973,000 tourists visited Penghu in 2015, and the county is hoping to break 1 million visitors in 2016. But it’s unclear if the number of return visitors is growing along with overall visitor arrivals. The hope of residents supporting casinos is that the “entertainment cities” housing casinos will give visitors an indoor activity they can enjoy and that brings in revenues year-round. Liu Day-yangNTUST Grad. Institute of Finance ProfessorIn 2005, Singapore only had 7 million visitors. Then in 2010, the city opened two casinos for tourists, and in 2014 the number of visitors to the city had doubled, to 15 million.Liu Day-yang is an expert in the economics of the gaming industry. He’s pointed to the examples of Singapore and Macau to argue that building casinos on Taiwan’s outlying islands would not only bring in more tourists, it would increase the incomes of locals as well. But others worry that money alone can’t cover the hidden costs of the gaming industry, especially those wrapped up in the problem of gambling addiction.Ho Tsung-hsunAnti-Gambling Alliance Executive DirectorAccording to the experiences of other parts of the world, between 3 to 5 percent of gamblers in countries with casinos turn into addicts. The head of our Health Ministry’s Department of Mental and Oral Health himself said that if Taiwan were to build casinos, the country would end up spending at least NT$10 billion per year on gambling cessation programs.Anti-gambling groups also claim that with so many other casino resorts already built around the world, Penghu would find it hard to compete for gamblers. Casino proponents, though, seem confident that the county would bring in crowds and money if it offered facilities that reflected its own unique qualities.Some view these turbines looming over the Penghu coast as a symbol of the archipelago’s wind power potential, and its majestic natural scenery. But despite the clear skies, it’s still difficult to see what lies ahead for Penghu and its many residents, whose prosperity is increasingly dependent on tourism. With no casinos in the near future,…

source