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January 4, 2011

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City to trial individual tourist trips to Taiwan

INDIVIDUAL tourists, not traveling with an organized group, are expected to be able to travel to Taiwan from Shanghai and Beijing in April.

Local travel companies have already started designing packages in preparation.

Taiwan opened to Chinese mainland tourists in 2008, but visitors were required to travel in organized groups.

But now, according to China Times, a Taiwan local newspaper, the mainland and the island have reached an agreement that the two cities will trial individual trips.

It is expected that 500 independent tourists will make the journey to Taiwan daily, where they can stay for up to 15 days. The first are likely to set off on April 5, the Qingming Festival, reported the newspaper.

Mainland tourism authorities, however, have not confirmed the news.

Shanghai travel service companies said individual tours will mainly appeal to young people, attracted by the leisure options in Taiwan.

"We're thinking of 'air-and-hotel' packages that let tourists design their itinerary themselves," said Zhou Yingfeng, deputy general manager of Shanghai CYTS Tours.

Travel agencies are also designing short tours in which visitors can take in a live show or explore the countryside.

Since Taiwan opened to mainland tourists in 2008, most tourists making the trip have been middle-aged people or seniors, many to visit relatives who they haven't seen for decades.

The most popular option has been an around-the-island package, lasting from six to eight days.

In 2009, the mainland and Taiwan began discussing individual tours, and late last year reports emerged that Taiwan was expected to accept business travelers this year.

Last year, around 1.6 million mainland tourists went to Taiwan, and the number is expected to reach 2 million this year, according to the China Tourism Administration.

Meanwhile, chilly weather made Shanghai residents reluctant to venture out of the city over the New Year holiday, tour company officials said. The Shanghai Sightseeing Tour Bus Center reported that around 4,000 people took trips to outlying areas or neighboring provinces through the center - down 23 percent from last year.

"The cold weather was to blame," said Shen Li, an official with the center. "The mercury was too low, so people stayed at home."

Officials said "wish-making" tours were the most popular. Many people went to Putuo Mountain in Zhejiang Province or to the Lingshan Buddha in Jiangsu Province to make New Year wishes.


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