Adventure Awaits: Michael McCreesh’s Mission to Showcase Taiwan’s Outdoors

Michael McCreesh’s Mission to Showcase Taiwan’s Outdoors
Michael McCreesh (right), CEO and Founder of Taiwan Outdoors.

In this exclusive interview, we talk with Michael McCreesh, the dynamic Founder and CEO of Taiwan Outdoors. Michael reveals his passion for Taiwan’s diverse outdoor activities and the inspiration behind creating a platform to highlight them. Since moving to Taiwan in 2019, he has tackled challenges in promoting the island’s natural beauty and connecting international visitors with local experiences. Join us as Michael discusses his background in destination development, marketing hurdles, and ambitious plans for making Taiwan a premier outdoor adventure destination.

Thank you for meeting with us today, Mr McCreesh! Can you tell us about what inspired you to establish Taiwan Outdoors after moving to the country in 2019?

Absolutely. Thank you for this opportunity to share a little bit about Taiwan and our platform, Taiwan Outdoors. Before moving to Taiwan in 2019, I had actually lived here in the early 2000s. Like many who have lived in or visited Taiwan, I became infatuated with the diversity of outdoor activities this country has to offer.  After moving to Taiwan in 2019, I began to realise that there were two main challenges to getting more people outdoors and truly experiencing one of Taiwan’s greatest assets – Nature.

The first reason is that the English-language information needed to properly plan and safely adventure into Taiwan’s great outdoors is very fragmented. It’s found across personal blogs, YouTube and short-form videos, tweets, etc. There is no platform that has collected and presented this kind of information across multiple activity areas like hiking, cycling, diving, surfing, birding. We’re not there yet, but we intend to be that platform for the public.

The second reason is that it’s hard for visitors to connect with local experiences and experience providers. I’ll get more into that later, but those are the two pain-points that inspired me and my co-founder, Michael Chen, to create a platform like Taiwan Outdoors.

How did your previous experiences in destination development, bicycle tourism in Canada, and working with indigenous communities shape your approach to creating this company?

Like many who have lived in or visited Taiwan, I became infatuated with the diversity of outdoor activities this country has to offer.

While working in destination development, I learned the importance of understanding and enhancing a location’s unique attributes to make it appealing to visitors. Developing bicycle tourism in Ontario, Canada was focused on creating sustainable and engaging travel experiences that connect visitors with the people and places they visit, slowing visitors down to capture the true essence of a destination. Working with indigenous communities in Australia and Canada emphasised the value of building strong, respectful relationships and incorporating local culture into tourism offerings. The foundations of all of our indigenous communities are based on these relationships. I believe in Taiwan there’s a need for indigenous communities to lead tourism product development. In this regard, Taiwan Outdoors aims to provide detailed information and foster connections between visitors, local experience providers, and communities.

Were there any challenges you encountered in marketing your company to the international community?

There is certainly a challenge for any local tour platform to reach international markets. Marketing continues to stick out as a challenge for us – specifically, figuring out how we can reach an international audience at the right time in the consumer purchasing process to convert eyeballs to bookings for us or our partners.

We’ve had moderate success in a few of our endeavours, such as SEO, organic social content, and influencer marketing. We’ll continue to develop these more strategically in 2024 and beyond. Moving forward, we will also lean into other tactics such as co-branded tours with influencers and B2B partnerships with travel agency networks and outbound tour operators in key source markets.

Hiking in Mianyue Line
Hiking in Mianyue Line in Alishan, Chaiyi, Taiwan. Photo credit: Taiwan Outdoors

How has the international community responded to Taiwan Outdoors since its launch?

Every visitor I speak with resonates with the vision for Taiwan Outdoors and often remarks, “This is exactly what Taiwan needs.” Hearing this is always encouraging and fuels our enthusiasm.

Recently, I had the honour of speaking at two Taiwan Tourism Administration events in Toronto and Vancouver. The response from Canadian outbound tour operators was overwhelmingly positive. They were particularly excited about a local Taiwanese tour operator creating unique travel products tailored for international visitors, coupled with the ability to provide ground support for clients travelling in Taiwan. Many of our overseas partners have never had this kind of support for Taiwan before, which we believe bodes well for our long-term opportunities.

Since Taiwan Outdoors is “built by foreigners for foreigners”, what unique challenges and opportunities have you encountered in marketing Taiwan’s outdoor activity tourism industry to the international community?

There are opportunities to showcase Taiwan’s diverse and rich outdoor activities to a global audience that may not be aware of them.

Marketing Taiwan’s outdoor activity tourism to an international audience presents unique challenges and opportunities. One significant challenge is bridging the gap between local providers and international visitors. Many local providers are not accustomed to catering to foreign tourists, which can affect the quality and relevance of the experiences offered. On the other hand, there are opportunities to showcase Taiwan’s diverse and rich outdoor activities to a global audience that may not be aware of them. By acting as an aggregator of experiences, as well as a mediator between international visitors and local providers, Taiwan Outdoors can help local providers understand and meet international standards and expectations, while also curating and promoting unique experiences that highlight Taiwan’s natural beauty and cultural heritage.

From product ideation to taking the guests out on a tour and following up post-tour, everything we do has the international visitor in mind. Frankly, there is really no one doing what we’re doing for the outdoor and adventure market in Taiwan.

As Taiwan’s first English-language platform for outdoor adventure activities, what strategies have you used to build and maintain the most comprehensive database of outdoor experiences in Taiwan?

Building and maintaining the most comprehensive database of outdoor experiences in Taiwan is an ongoing process, and we’re not there quite yet. As we build this out, we are utilising two main strategies: partnerships with database providers and collaboration with niche knowledge experts.

For database providers, we target those not currently active in the international tourism sector, offering them exposure and additional revenue through our platform and our community. In areas not covered by these partners, we engage key knowledge experts across various outdoor activities. These passionate individuals, from hikers to surfers, have developed deep expertise over many years. They provide objective and detailed content, helping us create value-oriented content (compared with click-bait). We greatly value their contributions and they’re a big part of what we’re doing. We create further opportunities for these experts to contribute as consultants in tour product development and marketing.

How do you ensure the safety and quality of the experiences provided by the professional experience providers and transportation solutions featured on your platform?

Ensuring the safety and quality of experiences on Taiwan Outdoors is a top priority. We vet all experience providers and transportation solutions featured on our platform. This vetting process includes checking for proper licences and certifications, insurance, safety protocols, and risk management plans, as well as references in the form of their past customer reviews and feedback. We also seek ongoing feedback from our own guests to see how we can maintain high standards in terms of quality, as well as safety. Participating in outdoor and adventure activities has inherent risks, but we do our best to mitigate and reduce these by working with professional partners.

SUP boarding in Longdong
SUP boarding in Longdong, New Taipei, Taiwan. Photo credit: Taiwan Outdoors

Can you discuss the importance of integrating local resources and products into Taiwan Outdoors and how this approach benefits travellers and local communities?

Firstly, the outdoor and adventure travel sector in Taiwan is quite fragmented, with local providers often overlooking the potential of international visitors. Taiwan Outdoors acts as an aggregator of these local resources and providers, helping them reach a new, underserved, and high-margin tourist market. This neglect of the international market by local experience providers creates several issues (and opportunities). For travellers, the lack of unique, exciting, and safe tour experiences means they miss out (as far as we’re concerned) on the true “Taiwan experience”. In a competitive global tourism landscape, this is a missed opportunity for both travellers and the industry.

We believe that by partnering with local experience providers and offering them a platform to reach an international audience, we can maximise the potential of Taiwan’s outdoor tourism sector, ensuring a richer and more authentic experience for travellers while supporting local economies.

How do you collaborate with local Taiwanese businesses and communities to enhance the experiences offered on Taiwan Outdoors?

As I mentioned above, we vet and verify each partner, ensuring they emphasise safety, professionalism, and quality. Our collaboration process also involves evaluating and adapting their existing products or experiences to meet the needs of international visitors. Many local experiences are initially developed for the domestic market. We illustrate to our partners that catering to international visitors can enhance value and justify higher pricing, while reducing guest volume for a more exclusive experience, which is what the modern traveller is looking for.

What trends do you see emerging in Taiwan’s tourism and outdoor activity industry? How is your company positioned to capitalise on these trends?

The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a global surge in outdoor activities as a means of maintaining health and fitness. While activities like cycling have seen a slight decline from their peak, the demand for active and adventure travel remains pretty robust. This trend aligns perfectly with Taiwan’s evolving image as an adventure travel hotspot. We’re leaning into the slogan of Taiwan as the “Adventure Capital of Asia”.

As Taiwan’s premier English-language platform for planning and booking outdoor travel, our company is positioned well to leverage these trends. We provide comprehensive resources and booking services, making it easier for adventure-seekers to explore Taiwan’s landscapes and outdoor activities.

What role do you see technology and digital platforms playing in the future of adventure travel and tourism, particularly for a platform like Taiwan Outdoors?

We are working on connecting two pieces of key technology to Taiwan Outdoors, both relevant for any digital platform promoting and selling outdoor experiences. These are both rooted in the thesis of improving the safety and overall experiences of those who venture into Taiwan’s rugged natural areas.

Firstly, robust weather data. We understand that weather impacts both consumers and operators and we are exploring how more timely weather updates can improve how visitors experience Taiwan outdoor environments more safely and enjoyably. We also know that weather greatly determines when and how people go outdoors.

We’re looking into how to weave weather data and a language model trained on Taiwan’s outdoor offerings in a way that can improve personalisation and accessibility.

The other is artificial intelligence, AI. Across the tourism industry, we believe that consumers will increasingly seek conversation-based engagement with digital platforms, helping them find suitable experiences for their travel dates, abilities, and interests. We’re looking into how to weave weather data and a language model trained on Taiwan’s outdoor offerings in a way that can improve personalisation and accessibility. By integrating these technologies, we aim to create a more intuitive and responsive platform that can provide tailored recommendations, real-time updates, and seamless communication. That’s the vision we have and we’re slowly making inroads in this area. This innovation will not only enhance the user experience but also promote safer and more enjoyable adventures in Taiwan.

Can you share some examples of the most popular or unique outdoor experiences Taiwan Outdoors offers international visitors?

There are many, but two of our most unique and popular experiences are our Night Safaris, where we take guests into the jungles around Taiwan to seek out the many rare and endemic reptiles, amphibians, and other creatures that come alive when the sun goes down. The other experience is our 3-day / 2-night experience to Tjuvecekadan, a Paiwan indigenous tribal village in southeast Pingtung County. This community boosts the largest collection of traditional slate-stone homes in the country and is listed on Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture’s “Potential UNESCO World Heritage List”. It’s a special overnight night experience that can’t be done anywhere else on Earth.

Taiwan Outdoors

What are your future plans for Taiwan Outdoors?

Firstly, outdoor and environmental education programmes for youth. Many of our team spent their formative years outdoors. This can have a tremendous impact on individuals, communities, and even societies at large. We want to create a platform for youth (both here in Taiwan and from overseas) to connect with the outdoors.

Secondly, we would like to align our tours (and profits) with charities and non-profit organisations in Taiwan working in nature and cultural conservation. We understand that the impact tourism can have on destinations is not all roses and rainbows. We’re still working out how this may manifest itself, but we feel this will be a meaningful contribution to the places and people our tours visit.

Finally, down the road, I believe our team could work more closely with local, regional, and central government stakeholders in consulting on destination development, marketing, and training.

For now, we’ll continue to be the premier resource for people to plan outdoor activities during their travels in Taiwan. For those that don’t want to figure it out on their own, we’re here to help them with custom trip planning, or through our existing tours and activities.

Executive Profile

Michael McCreesh

Michael McCreesh has over 20 years of experience in the tourism industry. He used to work in the destination development sector, developing bicycle tourism in Canada, and in various roles working with indigenous communities and eco-tourism resorts. After moving to Taiwan in 2019, he runs two tourism-related companies, Parkbus Taiwan and Taiwan Outdoors.

About Taiwan Outdoors

Taiwan Outdoors Logo

Taiwan Outdoors is Taiwan’s leading English-language platform for Adventure Travel. We’re building the most comprehensive database of outdoor experiences to help independent travelers plan their next adventure to Taiwan.

For those who need it, we’ve verified and selected professional experience providers and transportation solutions to get you outdoors safely.

Visit our website: https://taiwanoutdoors.com/

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