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First cruise arrives in Taiwan

HUNDREDS of Chinese mainland tourists arrived in Taiwan yesterday on the first luxury cruise ship to sail directly to the island from the mainland.

The Ocean Mystery arrived at Keelung Port following a two-day cruise from Shanghai, with well-wishers setting off firecrackers and performing traditional dragon dances.

The 1,600 passengers are the first of several large-scale tour groups mainland officials have promised to send to Taiwan by ship or air.

Keelung Mayor Chang Tong-rong said: "We welcome you faraway friends in this warm spring when flowers are blossoming. We wish you a pleasant and smooth journey in Taiwan."

According to Yan Zhirong, a senior official with the Amway China company, most of the tourists on board the ship were company clerks visiting Taiwan for the first time.

Yan said Amway planned to send nine groups of 12,000 workers to the island on tours organized by China Travel International Ltd. Every tour will last six days and seven nights, with stopovers at main port cities such as Keelung, Hualian and Taizhong.

According to the mainland-based Cross-Strait Tourism Exchange Association, more than 100,000 trips have been made by mainland visitors to Taiwan from July 2008 to March 12 of this year. Last December, the two sides opened direct transport links for the first time since they split after a civil war in 1949.

Taiwanese officials hope a significant increase in the number of mainland tourists will help shore up the island's economy. It contracted 8.36 percent in the final quarter last year amid the global economic downturn.

During a trip to Taiwan last month, Shao Qiwei, director of State Tourism Administration, promised to increase departing cities on the mainland for visitors to Taiwan.


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