The National Palace Museum has cut back its opening hours. Five-star hotels in Taipei have stopped serving buffets and are promoting take-out menus instead. Even Addiction Aquatic Development has been looking pretty empty.
People are staying home because of coronavirus, and of course they should be.
The impact in Taipei is being felt strongly for some businesses in the hospitality industry, while not so much for others. Tourism operators that rely on overseas visitors have seen so many cancelations from overseas tourists that the government is ready to bail them out with NT$50 billion in subsidies. Yes, billions.
On the other hand, it’s business as usual at popular bars and restaurants that cater to Taipei’s young and cool. To get a sense of what’s happening on the ground, I asked the people behind some well-known hospitality and tourism brands to share their observations.
Jimmy Yang, owner of Woolloomooloo
“The weekend of February 7 was supposed to be the Taipei International Book Exhibition, but the postponement to May meant multiple publisher events and after parties at Woolloomooloo were canceled. Other than that, it’s been quieter trade the past few weeks but it seems to be warming up now. We’re being more careful about everything to protect us and our guests from coronavirus. We have masks for serving and cooking staff. Guests are sprayed with alcohol for sanitation. As for our B&B business, Zzzzz, we currently have zero guests, zero occupancy.” (Feb 20, 2020)
Michael Wu, CEO of MyTaiwanTour
“MyTaiwanTour‘s business has been hit hard with 90% of tours canceled. We’ve received zero inquiries in the last two weeks, which is not normal during this time for Taiwan tourism. Currently, we only have one or two day tours booked per day which is also an abnormality. We predict that these trends will continue until June. We’ve been surprised by the general public’s lack of understanding of the difference between Taiwan and China. People are mistakenly associating the status of coronavirus in China with the status of coronavirus in Taiwan.” (Feb 11, 2020)
Yee Soong, owner of Ounce Taipei
“There are less tourists, which can sometimes be Ounce‘s bread and butter, as people cancel their trips to Taiwan and Asia in general. Outside of that, everything else is par for the course. But it’s definitely a less celebratory mood at the moment. People should wash their hands and seize the opportunity to enjoy places you normally wouldn’t be able to get a seat at!” (Feb 11, 2020)
Yu Shuen Cheng 鄭畬軒, owner of Yu Chocolatier
“Yu Chocolatier is not quite in the category of bar and restaurant, so we ourselves haven’t felt much yet. I was expecting our business to drop as well, so I was surprised, in a good way, when it didn’t. But I have heard many friends on the other side complaining about serious drops in business.
Fortunately, our space can accommodate less than 10 people, so customers don’t feel as insecure as when dining in a full house restaurant. Our sales staff now wear masks. We apply a second round of alcohol on the tables and the arms of chairs or any surface that would be in contact with customers. We also plan to do interior sterilization more often than before.” (Feb 15, 2020)
Debra Liu, owner of Tamed Fox
“I think Tamed Fox has been lucky because we’re pretty small and not in a touristy area. We’re also a good cozy spot for moms and dads to bring their kids since they’re out of school for this extended period of time. We make sure we disinfect every customer that comes through the doors. Also, we’ve asked all our staff to wear masks at all times while they are at work.” (Feb 9, 2020)
Chanelle Lee, restaurant group manager at Buckskin Beer
“We’ve had lots of group reservations cancelled at Buckskin restaurants, including company spring parties (春酒) because people don’t want to congregate en masse. We’re focusing on more delivery promotions due to the slight drop these couple of weeks. At our restaurants, hand sanitization and temperature checks are required for guests. For everyone’s safety, those with a temp higher than 37.5 degrees are unfortunately turned away.” (Feb 16, 2020)
Tina Fong, co-founder of Taipei Eats
“For sure it’s affecting restaurants and bars. Night markets aren’t as packed during the week but I think on weekends people do still go out and about. I went to Raohe Night Market last week and the stalls are generally less crowded than usual. At Chia Te Bakery (the pineapple cake shop) you’re not allowed inside if you’re not wearing a mask.
For Taipei Eats, we’ve had a lot of tour cancellations, both by visiting tourists and a few corporate clients. One was an orchestra symphony company that canceled their entire trip to Hong Kong and Shanghai.” (Feb 9, 2020)
Bilal Rehman-Chohan, owner of Gusto Pizza
“The streets are noticeably quieter in the Yongkang area, but there are still a fair amount of people out and about. A few nearby businesses are closing around 7pm in the evening which is unheard of. At Gusto, the type of customer has changed. Less elderly and families. More young international travelers. Everyone is locking themselves up at home eating noodles and rice but at some point the pizza cravings will take over and they know our oven is fired up and ready to go.” (Feb 13, 2020)
Leslie Liu, @taipeifoodie
“The places I’ve been since the coronavirus news broke out so far are surprisingly still very crowded. I don’t see a huge decline in the numbers of diners and it’s still hard to get reservation at some of the popular restaurants. Most restaurants provide hand sanitizers but not every single one requires customers to spray their hands upon entry or checks body temperature. A lot of the smaller cafes don’t do any temp checks or hand sanitizer.” (Feb 23, 2020)
Long Xiong, chef/owner of Le Blanc & Salt and Stone
“We haven’t done anything in particular in response to coronavirus, Le Blanc is still relatively consistent. We’re super lucky to have loyal regulars who’ve helped keep us going. Our entire team wear masks as a precaution and we’ve upped our sanitizer game and disinfect as often as possible without letting it affect the guest experience.
At Salt and Stone, we take temperatures because people are especially weary in such a tourist destination (TAIPEI 101) but they’ve been accommodating. Some even appreciate it because they feel safer knowing everyone else also had their temp taken. Otherwise, I think people have already decided if they will or won’t go to TAIPEI 101, so I’m not sure how much we can do to change that.” (Feb 22, 2020)
Peter Huang, CEO of Taihu Brewing
“We haven’t seen a major impact at the Taihu taprooms. At the moment, if anything, we’re seeing the numbers go up. This is purely speculative, but I think in the medium term coronavirus may positively impact the bar space. At the end of the day, young Taiwanese people are still going to find ways to spend their money on experiences. As travel options become limited, it wouldn’t surprise me if that spending shifted to bars and entertainment domestically.
Internally, our priority is the safety and well-being of our team and our community. While we’re really strict on hygiene to begin with, we’ve also implemented additional measures to check incoming guests. Beyond that, we’re encouraging our team to self-monitor and report. This means if you don’t feel well, then stay at home with paid time off, no questions asked. We trust our team to be responsible.” (Feb 23, 2020)
Ashley Han, owner of Little Creatures Taipei
“Coronavirus hasn’t affected Little Creatures much, surprisingly. But some bars and restaurants have been affected according to some of my friends. People are still eating and drinking, and lunch service has been alright for us too. It’s really hard to say, I think we need more time to observe. For hygiene, we aren’t doing anything special. We always had alcohol in the bathroom for guests to use.” (Feb 23, 2020)
Chih Hsiang Yu 游智翔, owner of Lai Hao Taiwan Gift Shop
“Overall at Lai Hao, we’ve seen around 20% to 30% drop in store sales. We’ve asked our suppliers to suspend future purchase orders so we can go through current store inventory as much as possible, and we’ve postponed unnecessary large expenditures such as new product development. Also for cash flow, we’ve suspended our hiring plan. Two or three workers recently left, but their positions have not yet been replaced. Instead we’ll be adjusting the operating hours in March for two out of three Lai Hao stores.
On the contrary, e-commerce sales have seen growth since people are going out less and shopping online instead. We’ll be increasing the marketing budget for our online store so more customers can find Lai Hao online.” (Feb 24, 2020)
Thanks to everyone featured for taking the time to answer my questions!