Taiwan opened up to more mainland tourists

A new travel policy will begin on Saturday to allow residents of six mainland cities - Chongqing, Tianjin, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Chengdu - to visit Taiwan individually, not as part of tour groups.

Also on Saturday, 66 individual tourists will leave from Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Nanjing to travel to Taiwan, according to Taiwan tourism authorities.

The deal, agreed by tourism authorities from both sides of the Taiwan Straits, is the latest change meant to encourage more mainland tourists to go to the island. In an experiment last year, residents of three mainland cities - Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen, in Fujian province - were allowed to make the same types of trips.

About 74,000 people from the mainland have applied so far to travel individually in Taiwan, and more than 400 people applied each day on average in the first three months of the year to take the trips, according to China News Service.

Yue Xuejiao, a 27-year-old travel lover in Chongqing who has been to South Korea, Australia and many countries in the Southeast Asia, said she is ready to explore another overseas destination - Taiwan.

The place Yue has dreamed about going to is Jiufen, also known as Jioufen, a village in the hills near Keelung, in northeast Taiwan. Two years ago, she had met a couple of Taiwan travelers who had sent her a postcard showing a view of distinct, old houses. It was the setting used in A City of Sadness, a Taiwan movie that won a Golden Lion, the highest award at the Venice Film Festival.

"I was looking forward to going there but never made it because I could only visit the island in tour groups," the Chongqing resident said.

In the past, many of the people who went to Taiwan as part of group tours were middle-aged or elderly. But as the opportunity to travel there individually becomes open to more and more, the young are the ones showing the greatest enthusiasm for the trips, according to travel agencies in Guangzhou.

Most of the tourists who have signed up for the new travel option are between the ages of 20 and 35. Many said they are traveling with friends to learn about trends in music, books and design or to go shopping and bicycling on the island, according to Nanhu International Travel Service, one of the six travel agencies in Guangzhou permitted to arrange individual tours to Taiwan.

Saturday will see the journey start for the first batch of 15 tourists who, under the new policy, have signed up for a tour of the island through the Guangdong branch of China Travel Services.

"This policy will give a boost to less-traveled scenic spots and specialty routes," said Wang Jun, deputy director of the agency.

Qiao Huaxiang, manager of the Taiwan-bound travel business at the Chongqing Yangtze River Traveling Co, said individual tours, as a supplement to group tours, can help to make trips to the island more frequent.

"We recommend that tourists visit Taiwan the first time in groups to gain a general understanding and then take individual tours the next time," he said.

He said Taiwan has now become Chongqing residents' favorite travel destination.

Public security bureaus in the six cities said individual residents have to obtain an entry permit before they go to Taiwan, which allows them to stay for up to 15 days on the island. Current plans also call for the residents of four other mainland cities - Jinan, Xi'an, Fuzhou and Shenzhen - to be permitted to visit Taiwan individually before the end of the year.

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