“We are very satisfied with the trip to Taipei,” Yu Qingyin told the Global Times on Sunday, after returning to Beijing from her five-day holiday in Taiwan. “The trip was too short. We are definitely going back again.”
Yu’s family was among the first batch of individual tourists from the Chinese mainland to visit Taiwan on June 28. Apart from visiting the must-see tourist spots, Yu had another reason for going.
She had promised to bring her 93-year-old mother to visit her 90-year-old aunt and 80-year-old uncle, who both fled to Taiwan after the defeat of the Kuomintang (KMT) in 1949.
The ban on mainland tourists traveling individually to Taiwan was lifted June 28 for residents of Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen in Fujian Province. The number was limited to 500 tourists per day, hardly a significant one compared with the daily maximum of 4,000 for group tourists since 2008.
“We had been waiting for this (to visit Taiwan independently) for many years,” said Yu.
“We once considered joining group tours to Taiwan,” she recalled, “but we decided not to because group members are not allowed to leave the tour and I’m afraid my mother is not fit enough for the hustle and bustle of group activities.”
Traveling independently gives visitors more flexibility and will benefit many families like hers, she said.
“My mother became immersed in telling childhood anecdotes with her siblings,” she said. “It was very sad when they had to say goodbye.”
Family reunions are just one of the many items left out of the traditional itinerary of group tours.
The Taiwanese sense opportunities in anything that draws the curiosity of mainlanders. Wang Jin-pyng, speaker of Taiwan’s “Legislative Yuan” hinted at the possibility of opening its “parliament” in Taipei to individual tourists, according to the Taiwan Times on June 27, following reports that some mainland tourists had expressed a strong interest in Taiwan’s politics.
This could promote Taiwan’s democratic system and improve understanding between mainlanders and Taiwanese, he told the Taiwan-based China Times.
Putting aside the political dichotomy of the KMT (the blue camp) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DDP, the green camp), other parts of Taiwan are also striving to get a slice of the new market share, including the traditional “green” zones such as the city of Tainan (southern) and Taichung (central) of Taiwan.
Taipei, traditionally a “blue” zone, is currently the most popular destination among mainland tourists, accounting for more than 25 percent of total visitors to Taiwan, Wu Jinfeng, the deputy director of the Taiwan Straits Tourism Association Beijing Office, told the Global Times.
However, some online skeptics have raised concerns about tourists’ safety when traveling in southern Taiwan, fearing the repeat of an incident that occurred in October 2008, when Zhang Mingqing, vice chairman of the mainland’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, was injured in an attack led by a DPP member during his visit in Tainan.
But some local businessmen said political differences are not a matter of concern.
“The attack was only an individual incident,” said the owner of a local hostel in Chiayi, southwest Taiwan, whose surname is Ye.
“I don’t think it’s related to political differences,” said a female staff member surnamed Cai of Club 21, a local resort in Tainan. “It’s mainly a transportation problem, since it’s still quite inconvenient for tourists to come here from Taipei.”
Some tourists from the mainland share a similar view. “You can judge whether a place is ‘blue’ simply by observing the presence of the KMT flags on the streets. I was very amused,” said Julie Zhu, a Beijing resident who traveled to Taiwan via Hong Kong. “But I am not worried about the political differences. People in the ‘green’ zone are just as friendly as the people in the ‘blue’ zone.”
Unlike group tourists, independent travelers are usually more educated and financially better off, and might demand more than what they can expect from group tours, said Daniel Li, manager of the Fullon Hotel in Taipei.
The Fullon was one of the hotels to receive the first independent travelers from the mainland.
“One of the travelers asked a local jeweler to bring jewelry to his room so he could shop privately,” Li said.
If there’s a demand, the hotel will consider providing similar services in future to cater to customers’ needs, Li said.
According to a report of the Xinhua News Agency, the pilot travel program that allows mainlanders from the three cities to visit Taiwan as individual tourists started on June 28.
A poll on Sina Weibo shows 27 percent of 5,300 respondents voted for Guangzhou to become the next city to be opened for the second round of the scheme.