First private tours to Straits islands

Updated: 2011-07-30 09:40

By Chen Xin and Tan Zongyang (China Daily)

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XIAMEN, Fujian - The first batch of some 300 travelers from Fujian province set out on Friday for private tours to three islands in the Taiwan Straits that have recently opened to mainlanders.

The islands of Jinmen, Matsu and Penghu are the three destinations that are now open to mainlanders for private trips, the National Tourism Administration said on its website on Wednesday.

According to the administration, Fuzhou, Xiamen, Quanzhou and six other cities as well as a special economic zone named Pingtan, have been selected as the first places whose residents will be able to take part in the travel program.

If the program is successful, the same trips will become available to people living in other mainland cities.

The new tourism program, which has been approved by officials on both sides of the Taiwan Straits, comes after a similar policy change, which came into effect in late June, allowed residents from Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen to make private trips to Taiwan.

Before that, mainlanders usually traveled to Taiwan in groups organized by travel agencies.

Although no more than 500 mainlanders are now allowed to visit Taiwan Island in a single day, no limit has been set on the number of tourists who can travel to the small islands that lie off the coast of Fujian.

However, there are other restrictions.

The agreement, for instance, prohibits tourists who are now allowed to go to Jinmen, Matsu and Penghu islands from going to Taiwan Island. As well, it stipulates that those who want to go to Jinmen must start from Xiamen or Quanzhou. It also says that those want to go to Penghu must fly there from Jinmen.

On Friday, 106 travelers left Xiamen for Jinmen and 168 left Quanzhou for the same place, while 111 tourists set out from Fuzhou to go to Matsu.

Those travelers will not visit Penghu due to the limited availability of plane tickets to that popular destination. The first group of tourists will go there in early August, tourism authorities said.

A person who wants to go to Penghu must secure one of the 72 seats on each of the four flights from Jinmen to the island every week.

At a ceremony on Friday at a port in Xiamen to mark the launch of the travel program, Zhu Jiangsi, deputy secretary-general of the Xiamen government, said private tours to Jinmen, Matsu and Penghu will not only help the local tourism industry and strengthen economic ties between the mainland and the islands, but also lead to more cultural exchanges.

Shi Jinxian, a Xiamen resident, said she was excited to be one of the first tourists to visit the islands.

"I'm looking forward to the tour. I've never been to those islands, although they are not far away," said 66-year-old Shi.

Another traveler, surnamed Huang, said: "Today I will only go to Jinmen, and I plan to book a flight to Penghu, which I desperately want to visit because it has many tourist attractions, such as ancient Matsu temples and beautiful beaches."

Yang Weiping, a manager with the Taiwan tours sector of the Xiamen Tourism Group, said his company is under pressure to work more quickly because many people want to travel to the islands.

"I think more residents will go to Jinmen, Matsu and Penghu in coming days, because the procedure for applying to travel to those destinations is simpler than it is for going to Taiwan Island," he said.

Su Weijun, an official with the Xiamen tourism bureau, said he believes the demand for trips to Penghu will lead to more flights between Jinmen and Penghu being scheduled in the near future.

Li Bo contributed to this story.


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