TAIPEI, Taiwan, Aug. 15 (Xinhua) -- The Chinese mainland supports individual tourist travel to Taiwan, but wants time to prepare for possible large tourist flows, said a senior mainland official Sunday.
"We are positive about allowing individual mainland tourists to travel to Taiwan, but a lot of work must be done before that," Shao Qiwei, president of the Cross-Strait Tourism Exchange Association (CTEA), told Xinhua.
He said no timetable was in place for the policy change, although Taiwan authorities said in July they were considering lifting the ban by the end of the year.
The two sides would have to amend the travel agreement signed in June 2008 as it only covered package tours, said Shao, also head of the National Tourism Administration, while attending the fifth Taipei Cross-Strait Travel Fair, which opened Friday and runs until Monday.
Tourism authorities would have to research individual travel procedures and provide quality services as, unlike package tourists, individuals would travel independently without support from travel agencies, he said.
After both sides researched the proposals, the mainland would start a trial run in some cities where people had higher incomes, he said.
"Only when we do all the work on individual travelers will we see favorable results on both sides and make people happy."
Since July 2008, Taiwan has allowed mainland tourists to travel on package tours with a stay of up to 15 days. A total of 600,000 mainlanders visited Taiwan last year and this year's figure is expected to reach 1.5 million.
"I believe the annual number of mainland tourists to Taiwan will reach 3 million in next three years and it might continue rising," Shao said.
Dai Bin, president of the mainland-based China Tourism Academy, told Xinhua that at first mainland tourists would like to see as many attractions as possible in one visit, but gradually they would want to try more relaxed tours.
"Traveling as individuals will also allow mainlanders to discover the real life of Taiwan. It will be the right direction for cross-Strait tourism," he said.
"The authorities should think about how to protect their safety and provide comfortable tours."
According to Taiwan's tourism department, mainland tourists to Taiwan were on average aged 52.
Allowing individual tourists from the mainland would attract younger tourists who liked backpacking, Dai said.