About the leisurisation of Taiwan’s farms, there are actually plenty of stories and details that we can talk about, and learn. Especially the innovative ideas of Taiwanese farmers’ farm reformation, from completely clueless to being an exemplary role model for the rest of the world. And the many pains and hardships they have experienced before they get to savor the sweet taste of success.
As a matter of fact, from lone operations fumbling to get started at the beginning, to the integration of their resources, professionalized guidance they received, and the introduction of industrial specifications much later, they have managed to produce exceptional results and have built up a sound reputation over the past 25 years.
In the last chapter we talked about how Zhang Qing-lai and a group of like-minded Taiwanese farmers jointly set up Taiwan Leisure Farming Development Association in 1998. Later, their vision and objectives became clearer and clearer as time went by, attracting many others in the farming industry across the island to jump into the bandwagon of farming industry transformation. With the constant exchange of creative ideas among themselves, they have managed to create a leisure farming model that is unique in this world.
That was something Malaysia’s farming industry operators were totally unfamiliar with, would we be able to take cue from the experience in Taiwan? Just let me Lee San take over this mission!
As a matter of fact, ever since I first came to visit a Taiwanese leisure farm in October 2005, and led a family-oriented group of 80 to visit and experience a leisure farm in December the same year, I had been working very closely with Taiwan Leisure Farming Development Association for the following two years.
At the same time, I was also organizing fam trips for Malaysian media organisations (including also the Malay media) as well as the national TV station to different leisure farms in Taiwan. Thanks to the subsequent massive coverage and promotion by the country’s mainstream media, Malaysia’s outbound travel agencies started to incorporate leisure farm accommodation into their regular Taiwan itineraries. As if that’s not enough, the leisure farm DIY games at the Taiwanese pavilion in the spring and autumn travel fairs in KL and Penang drew enormous crowds of participants. This shows that many people were indeed keen to experience the rustic rural charms of Taiwan’s farms.
There was one particular group of people who had a lot of expectations from Taiwan’s farm leisurisation experience: the estate and land owners of Malaysia. I still can remember how they thronged to the Taiwanese pavilion at the KL travel fair from all over Malaysia just to find out from the representatives of various Taiwanese leisure farms, whether they were interested to invest in Malaysia
After that, with the strong support from the association, I managed to arrange for the owners of Taiwan’s eight most prominent leisure farms to come all the way here to give their talks in KL, Ipoh, Penang and Kota Kinabalu from May 27 to June 2, 2010. I gave the seminar a theme: “Enjoy the Dreams of Taiwan’s Farmer Tycoons”.
In each of the 3-hour talks, the owners of these farms unreservedly shared their highly motivational experiences and accomplishments in transforming their farms over the past four decades.
Of course, their success lies with the perfect integration of the traditional characteristics of Taiwan’s rural farms and experiential economics. Notably, Taiwan’s farmers are very much more ready to contribute towards “farming education”. And it has been proven that Taiwan’s leisure farms have successfully merged the elements of farming, recreation, good food, education and natural ecosystem to create a brand new rural experiential travel model that is one of its kind in this world.
Today, Taiwan’s leisure farms have become immensely popular among tourists from Southeast Asia, and have indeed become a part of Taiwanese people’s living. During the weekends, they love to travel to these farms to relax, allowing the city kids and youngsters to feel the rustic charms they have missed so much.
After 23 years of development (up to 2021), Taiwan’s leisure farming industry boasts more than 400 leisure farms across the island today, playing host to over 15 million domestic and another 700,000 international visitors each year, and chalking up an impressive annual revenue of RM2 billion.
Since the seed was first sown in 2010 through the seminar, we have seen encouraging results in the transformation of Malaysia’s farming industry over the last 11 years. Besides Bentong and Raub, farm tourism has also flourished elsewhere in the country. Although there is still room for improvement in terms of service quality and branding, Malaysian farmers have indeed made significant progress towards their dreams!
(Lee San is Founder and Group Executive Chairman of Apple Vacations. He has traveled to 132 countries, six continents, and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.)