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Xinhua Insight: Chinese mainland, Taiwan individual travel heralds closer bond beyond tourism

06-13-2011 10:02 BJT

By Xinhua writers Shi Shouhe, Fu Shuangqi and Li Huizi

Chen Xida from southeast China's coastal city of Xiamen has traveled in Taiwan across the Strait three times, but all in package tours, so far the sole allowable mode for mainland tourists visiting the island.

"The itineraries were so tight that neither could I digest the delicious food, nor could I really enjoy the beautiful sceneries there," the 40-year-old company clerk complained.

"I am happy to know that the individual tour to Taiwan will start soon, and I am going to take my wife and child there again this year for a 'deep travel', to see whatever I like and go wherever I want," Chen said.

The Chinese mainland and Taiwan okayed on Sunday a pilot travel program that will allow mainlanders like Chen to visit Taiwan as individual tourists starting June 28.

Wang Yi, director of the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, announced the policy at a conference as part of the weeklong Straits Forum, which opened in the mainland's coastal city of Xiamen on Saturday.

Wang said the program will initially apply to residents of the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen in southeast China's Fujian Province.

The mainland and Taiwan also agreed to give the green light to Fujian residents who wish to individually travel to Taiwan's islands of Kinmen, Matsu and Penghu, according to Wang.

The decision came three years after the authorities in Taiwan lifted a ban on mainlanders' traveling to Taiwan in July 2008.

However, mainlanders could only join tightly-run tour groups to travel in Taiwan ever since.

As Taiwan further opens up to mainland's individual tourists, travel business on both sides of the Strait will get a shot in the arm, industry insiders say.

GREETING FROM BOTH SIDES

"We have been expecting the day to come sooner and preparing our business for it," said Ma Zhiqiang, general manager of Xiamen-based Chunhui International Travel Agency.

No sooner had the new policy been announced at about 9 a.m. than his company received calls inquiring the business, Ma said.

Business-savvy Ma instantly launched the new service and 10 clients have since been snatched by 4 p.m.

On the other side of the Strait, travel business also greeted the program with enthusiasm.

Roget K.C. Hsu, general secretary of the Travel Agent Association of Taiwan, said that if 500 mainland travelers visit Taiwan every day, and each of them spends 30,000 New Taiwan dollars (about 1,056 U.S. dollars) during their stay, they are likely to bring Taiwan at least 5.5 billion New Taiwan dollars in annual revenues.

Analysts in Taiwan said the policy will bring more high-end tourists and young people who are willing to spend more money. The policy will benefit tourism-related businesses such as hotels, department stores, restaurants and tourist sites, the analysts said.

Ke Ten-lu runs a small ten-room hotel in central Taiwan's Changhua County. Most of his clients are individual travelers.

"My hotel is too small to accommodate tourists who are part of tour groups, so I have received very few mainland clients," he said.

Ke said individual travelers typically pay more attention to the quality of their tours and the unique flavor of local communities, which his hotel is able to provide.

"My hotel is ready to receive mainland clients, but I think mainland people are not very familiar with small hotels in Taiwan. I hope the authorities will help promote us in the mainland so that more people will come," he said.

BOOMING TOURSIM

The mainland and Taiwan have witnessed booming tourism in recent years, especially after the lift of the ban in mid 2008.

The number of Chinese mainland tourists traveling to Taiwan in groups have totaled 2.34 million as of the end of May, Shao Qiwei, head of the China National Tourism Administration, said on Sunday's forum conference.

Meanwhile, Taiwan travelers visiting the mainland in 2010 reached 5.14 million, up from 4.45 million registered in 2009, Tseng Yung-chuan, vice chairman of Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party, said at the same conference.

In a bid to facilitate tourism between the mainland and Taiwan, the two sides also agreed on Sunday to increase the number of cross-Strait passenger flights to 558 flights per week, an increase of more than 50 percent, said Wang with the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office.

Also, the mainland added four stops for cross-Strait flights and Taiwan added its southern city of Tainan as a stop, bringing the total number of stops for cross-Strait flights to 50 on both sides.

In the meantime, the mainland and Taiwan have agreed to regulate airfares for flights from Beijing and Shanghai to Taipei, Wang said.

MORE THAN TOURISM BOOST

The newly clinched deal is viewed by Taiwan affairs experts as of significance beyond tourism.

Deng Lijuan, a professor at the Taiwan Research Institute of Xiamen University, said the individual tour program is not only a shot in the arm to the tourism, but also an important measure in pushing forward grassroots exchanges and deepening ties between the mainland and Taiwan.

This week, Xiamen and eight other cities in Fujian host the third Straits Forum, the largest-ever "carnival" for grassroots people on both sides of the Strait to exchange ideas and seek consensus.

"Only through face-to-face exchanges can misunderstanding among the people be cleared up and the emotional bond be sustained," said Deng.

Editor:Sun Luying |Source: Xinhua

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