First solo Chinese tourists arrive in Taiwan

Nearly 300 solo Chinese travellers arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday, officials said, the first individual tourists from the mainland in more than half a century after Taipei lifted a long-standing ban.

Travel between Taiwan and China stopped at the end of the civil war in 1949, and mainland tourists were previously only allowed to visit Taiwan in groups due to official concerns they might overstay their visas to work illegally.

Individual Chinese tourists are expected to generate up to Tw$19.5 billion ($673 million) in additional tourism income each year, according to authorities, providing a significant boost to the holiday industry in Taiwan.

The tourists from Beijing, Shanghai and the city of Xiamen, on the southeast coast, were greeted with aboriginal dances, gifts and snacks when they landed in three Taiwanese cities in the late morning.

"The opening of solo mainland tourists will give a new boost to Taipei city's tourism development," said municipal tourism chief Chao Hsin-ping at a welcoming ceremony at the Taipei airport.

More than 170,000 mainlanders are expected to visit the capital city on solo trips each year, generating at least Tw$2.4 billion in revenue, she said.

Initially, Taiwan will allow 500 individual arrivals from the three cities per day, in the hopes that the visitors will help promote peace across the Strait.

"This is my second trip to Taiwan and I want to visit the bookstores and see more of Taiwanese culture this time," said Yan Ting, a 27-year-old woman from Xiamen, who was visiting the towering Taipei 101 skyscraper.

Maa Shaw-chang, deputy secretary-general to Taiwan's quasi-official Straits Exchange Foundation, told AFP last week: "The Chinese tourists will all be peace ambassadors."

Ma Zhiqiang, general manager of the Xiamen Chunhui International Travel Service, said young and middle-aged people would be most drawn to individual travel.

"Young backpackers don't like to be restricted to group tour schedules and they prefer to avoid crowded scenic spots and choose personalised itineraries," Ma said.

Taiwan's United Daily News reported Saturday that solo Chinese tourists may be allowed to visit the island's parliament.

Travel between the two sides has boomed since Beijing-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou came to power in 2008 in Taiwan, pledging to boost trade links and tourism.

A blanket ban on mainland Chinese travel to Taiwan was lifted by the two sides the same year.

Last year, more than 1.63 million Chinese visited Taiwan - most of them on organised group tours - a rise of 67 percent from a year before, making China the biggest source of visitors to the island, according to Taipei.

Beijing still considers self-ruled Taiwan part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

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