Written by by Staff Writer
Bastion of old wings, a unique underground tunnel and the largest naval gun in Asia — Taiwan isn’t exactly known for the high-flying tourism trade. But perhaps the ‘It’ Taiwanese tourist destination of the moment is planned flights to ‘King Kong’ island, named for the flying ape.
In a nation known for its buildings built out of wood and stone, the future of Taiwan’s aviation industry has suddenly overtaken its building industry. Taiwanese carrier EVA Air said this month that it had struck a deal with Hollywood to co-produce a feature film, offering a first glimpse into Taiwan’s aerospace ambitions.
The multi-billion dollar partnership with Warner Bros. flies in the face of the aviation industry’s predominant assumptions that Taiwanese companies will inevitably be a quiet sector, competing for resources, cheap labor and staying power. It also illustrates that even in a region with few avenues for vertical takeoff flights, Taiwan is opening up to the film industry — even as it simultaneously applies for its own FAA approval to launch the nation’s first commercial space tourism flights.
Following news of the deal, Netflix, CBS Studios, Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures signed on to produce 10, 45-minute TV dramas for the Taiwanese market, joining Hollywood royalty like Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall.
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Since 2016, EVA Air — a subsidiary of media giant YG Entertainment — has been positioning itself as a leading international airline. This year the airline landed contracts to work with A-list filmmakers — signing with China, Hollywood and Nickelodeon — and announced that it had planned flights between Seattle and King Kong Island.
King Kong Island. Courtesy EVA Air
King Kong Island, set to open in 2020, has been a source of speculation in Taiwan since its completion in 2014 — photos and video of the island have circulated online since then, feeding rumors of its being a leisure resort or a theme park.
But later this month, EVA Air said that King Kong Island would be an anchor of a $5.2 billion tourism project to be led by Hsun Huang, the founder of mobile chip designer MediaTek.
“The island is still not operational yet, but you cannot imagine the opportunity for local businesses,” said Huang, adding that King Kong Island would focus on spurring tourism and clean and green sectors of the industry.
If approved, King Kong Island could officially become the newest destination for Taiwanese tourists, and Huang said its facilities will cater to multiple generations of travelers, including “the young and elderly and our family group.”
The island, Huang added, will be an incubator for the entertainment industry, from animation to live theatre. He referred to a commitment by EVA Air to invest $50 million of its own money into King Kong Island, in addition to the rumored $70 million investment from the Taiwanese government.
While the financial investment could be a boon for EVA Air, one of the company’s biggest attractions could be the future of its flight technology. At a press conference with the Hollywood industry heavyweights, EVA Air’s pilots told journalists that the aircraft “includes unprecedented control systems that are technologically cutting edge.”
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Although Huang denied that King Kong Island would be built as a theme park or location for live entertainment, its launch marks a shift in the Taiwanese emphasis on short-haul leisure travel.
A decade ago, only 3% of Taiwan’s passenger traffic was short-haul, compared to 42% with international flights. As a result, EVA Air’s plan to serve Los Angeles and São Paulo as well as Seattle is actually a significant departure from this year’s statistics, with 13% of passengers only journeying by plane to Guam and Hong Kong.
EVA Air CEO John Chen predicted that international flights would become an increasing part of Taiwanese tourism in the next 10 years, and he targeted the segment with a fleet of non-stop flights to the “most popular travel markets” (such as Europe and North America) as well as around 20 charter flights a year to such locations as Southeast Asia.
Following the deal with Hollywood, EVA Air CEO John Chen is setting his sights on the international market. Courtesy EVA Air