"Get more purchasing power in the hands of consumers."
Last week, all of us in MECO received our consumption stimulus vouchers from the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
For a one thousand NT dollar expense, we got three thousand dollar valued spending vouchers, which one could use to pay for practically anything, from food in restaurants and “ipay-ipay” food stalls (their version of our neighborhood carinderia), to the groceries and supermarkets to shopping in malls anywhere in the country.
The stimulus vouchers in effect give a person a 66.66-percent discount on every use.
It was unveiled some two months ago for their nationals, and expanded in mid-November to include even diplomatic staff. I would not be surprised if in the next phase, they would include overseas contract workers.
The intention of this stimulus program is quite apparent: to pump prime the economy by getting more purchasing power in the hands of consumers. Not only does it perk up the economy, even if Taiwan’s expert handling of the coronavirus contagion did not cause a recession, as in almost every other country of the world. It also gives a psychological sense of normalcy, even if Taiwanese hardly panicked over the pandemic as their government never imposed a lockdown.
The stimulus voucher works like cash, except that you cannot expect change if your 20 and 50 dollar-denominated paper bills are paid to the cashier. You need to fork over some cash if your purchase exceeds the amount on the face of the voucher.
The consumption stimulus is a one-time shot in the arm for the economy, particularly aimed at the small and medium-scale enterprises that have suffered from a lack of tourists and foreign visitors.
The reality is that travel is not expected to normalize within the next two years at least. The biggest economic sector that the pandemic hit is the tourism industry, and although Taiwan does not rely on tourism revenues the way half of Europe, or countries like Thailand and even the Philippines, their government is encouraging domestic travel among its citizens.
Our government has started encouraging the same, but because of fear of the viral contagion, the first few steps at domestic tourism are still quite wobbly. The hotels and resorts, restaurants and ancillary services are yet to revive, and hundreds of thousands have been laid off.
Flying to travel destinations will be severely affected by the fears. That is why nearby places like Baguio and Tagaytay for Luzon, perhaps Bohol and Siquijor for Cebuanos, and Boracay for Panay residents will likely perk up sooner than later. Last weekend for instance, waiting time to be seated in almost every restaurant in Tagaytay stretched to an hour. That is a good sign, at least, for our hard-hit tourism industry.
But with travel restrictions in most every country, including stringent quarantine measures, international travel will take a back seat for the next two years at least, and IATA hopes, at best-case scenario, that only by 2024 will international travel rebound to pre-2020 levels.
One good recognition is a surprise citation from the World Travel Awards of our very own Intramuros. That we are cited for our world-class dive spots is not surprising, but for the Walled City, which most of us locals have been taking for granted, the acclaim is most welcome indeed.
Congratulations are in order for Intramuros Administration’s Guiller Asido, who as a young lawyer joined me at the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs way back 1998. Thereafter, when the head of the Legal Department of the Philippine Tourism Authority retired, I asked Guiller to join the PTA. He has been a valuable asset since in the tourism industry, and particularly recognized by the late DOT Secretary Ramon Jimenez, an outstanding marketing genius whose “It’s more fun in the Philippines” slogan has been continued to this day.
Given the continued GCQ, it must be a pleasure for Metro Manilans and those residing nearby, to visit the newly-redeveloped Intramuros, and I hope that Guiller and the City of Manila have some outdoor musical programs at Plaza Roma, or Puerto Real, or the plaza fronting Fort Santiago, venues which could make the coming Christmas more memorable.
Speaking of music and the culture it promotes, Taipei has had some very outstanding performances of late. Two weeks ago, the inimitable YoYo Ma, the world-renowned Taiwanese-American-French cellist, without doubt the inheritor of the greatest cellist of the 20th century, Spain’s Pablo Casals, gave a masterful solo rendition of six Bach symphonies through all of two hours in the newly-built Taipei Music Center with an audience of some 4,000 paying high-priced but value-for-money tickets. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, just as my watching Zubin Mehta’s final world tour at the Taiwan National Concert Hall was.
Last week, we were invited by the Taipei Philharmonic to a concert of its Youth Ensemble, where eighty young boys and girls masterfully played beautiful classics under the baton of You Jia-fa and the energetic Liu Bo-hong.
Paricularly endearing were the performances of a 13-year old Filipina-looking girl, Zheng An-jie, who played Sarasate’s popular Zigeunerweisen, and 11-year old, dimunitive Qiu Yu-en who started playing the violin at age 5, and his rendition with orchestral accompaniment of Mendelssohn’s violin concerto in E minor.
The audience warmly applauded, with feet stomping and hand clapping, the sonorous cadence of the happy finale, the overture from Offenbach’s Orphee aux Enfers, which children connect to Disney cartoons.
Taiwan’s cultural fare never seizes to enthrall.