Taipei needs to continue to promote itself as a Muslim-friendly city so it can be ready to welcome Muslim tourists when international tourism picks up again, a top city official said Tuesday.
"This is because once our borders open for tourists, we will have sufficient facilities available for Muslim tourists," Taipei Deputy Mayor Tsai Ping-kun (???) said at a press conference.
"Even though we don't have many Muslim friends here at the moment, we are committed to building our foundation," he added.
He further said that if efforts to develop a Muslim-friendly city are stopped because of the COVID-19 pandemic, then the city won't be ready in time when borders open for tourism, adding that he understood the pandemic had heavily impacted the tourism industry.
Despite the lack of tourists, Tsai said efforts had not gone to waste, as earlier this year, Taiwan was ranked as the second most attractive non-OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) destination for Muslim travelers in the latest edition of the Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI).
According to the GMTI 2021, released in July, Taiwan and the United Kingdom were tied in second place among top non-OIC destinations for Muslims with a score of 57, trailing only Singapore's 69.
"So, we want to compete with Singapore for the No. 1 spot. Especially as Taipei is the place where all Muslim tourists who come to Taiwan must visit," Tsai said.
Taipei has been working with the Chinese Muslim Association for the last three years on the accreditation of Muslim-friendly places or tourism sites, according to Tsai.
He noted that a total of 49 of the city's hotels have been certified, while 16 sights in the city have also been certified.
"Taipei Mayor Ko hopes to make Taipei the world's most Muslim-friendly tourist spot, and we are approaching that goal step-by-step," Tsai said.
The capital of Taiwan, Taipei is run by Mayor Ko Wen-je (???), a physician-turned-politician who heads the opposition Taiwan People's Party.
Meanwhile, Chinese Muslim Association Vice President Salahuding Ma told CNA that he had seen the efforts Taipei had taken to make itself Muslim-friendly and also commended Taiwan's polite environment for making it possible.
"Taiwan is a very safe, very friendly, and convenient place," Ma said.
A Muslim person had told him that while traveling in Taiwan, he was able to go into convenience stores and borrow a corner to pray, which was not possible when that person visited some Western countries.
"It is the way Taiwan touches the heart of the people, that these people go back home and tell others," Ma said.
Regarding how sites can be accredited as Muslim-friendly, Ma said his association will provide advice and evaluate premises, such as making sure hotels signify the kiblah direction in prayer rooms and that alcoholic beverages are not provided in the minibar.
Kiblah is the direction of the sacred shrine of the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which Muslims face when they pray.
Novi Irmania, a 31-year-old Indonesian doctoral student who has resided in Taiwan for seven years, said Taipei was like her second home because it had many Muslim-friendly facilities.
"In many of the prayer rooms, they have kiblah directions for Muslims to pray and also provide prayer mats, prayer schedules, and others. It is really touching for me," she said.
Echoing Novi's remark, 45-year-old Malaysian cycling enthusiast Mohamad Bin Mos, who has lived in Taiwan for five years and has cycled around Taiwan twice, said he was impressed with Taipei's efforts to become a Muslim-friendly city.
It is convenient and safe to find a place to pray, while halal food is plentiful in Taipei, he said. "It is very safe, you can perform your prayers and rituals without any difficulties."
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel