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Mainland China and Taiwan Confirm Independent Tourist Agreement

SEF President Chiang Pin-kung (left) and ARATS President Chen Yunlin (right) - June 29, 2010Written documents were exchanged between the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) in Taiwan and the mainland-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) on Tuesday. This move has confirmed the schedule of a trial travel programme that will allow tourists from the mainland to visit Taiwan as individuals. The organisations also exchanged other documents to confirm previous deals, including more direct flights across the Strait.

These agreements were made during the annual Strait Forum, which was held from June 11-17 in Xiamen, a mainland coastal city in the southeast Fujian Province. Included in the deals is an arrangement to allow the first group of individual mainland tourists to enter Taiwan on June 28. The starting phase of this Free Independent Travelers (FIT) programme is only going to apply to those who live in Xiamen, Beijing and Shanghai.

As for the extra cross-Strait flights, each side will be adding 94 direct weekly services to make a total of 558 weekly flights between the mainland and island. They will also add 4 extra cargo flights per week, taking the total number of weekly services between the two sides to 56.

Taiwan became a popular destination for mainland travellers after the island lifted its travel ban for mainland visitors in July 2008. As of the end of May, the number of mainland tourists visiting Taiwan in groups has totaled 2.34 million. This has brought an estimated NT$110 billion to the island. However, Chinese tourists can’t currently visit there on their own. Instead they have to travel in groups and follow tour routes that are preplanned.

Sources in the travel industry think that launching this individual travel programme will give an even bigger boost to cross-Strait tourism. The China Youth Travel Service, which is a major provider for travel services on the mainland, has opened a registration service online for individual travellers. So far they have 6,000 customers registered for trips to the island.

Industry sources in Taiwan also anxiously await visitors from the mainland. There have been 18 tour itineraries created for individual mainland visitors to the island, and the Taiwan Strait Tourism Association’s head of the Beijing office, Yang Ruizong, says these have been designed to give travellers an in-depth experience of urban life, culture and history on the island.

Meanwhile, there are plans for 100 Chinese couples to get married in southern Taiwan this fall – a very symbolic first group wedding to reflect warmer ties between the two sides. The couples will come from Xiamen city and will marry in September in Tainan city, which is traditionally identified with strong anti-China feelings. Xiamen city also says that the couples will spend a week-long honeymoon on the island. Mayor Lai Ching-te said that this is a very meaningful event, and they hope it will boost visibility in Tainan.

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