Taipei, April 27 (CNA) Taiwan will open its doors Saturday to independent Chinese travelers from six more Chinese cities, but it will take time for tourist numbers from those regions to build up, according the National Immigration Agency.
Residents from the cities of Tianjin, Chongqing, Nanjing, Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Chengdu will be allowed to visit Taiwan for pleasure without having to be part of a tour group for the first time.
The program, which was launched last June, is currently limited to residents of Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen.
"The initial number of applications (from the six cities) is low, but we are expecting it to grow after Chinese travelers become familiar with the program," said NIA public relations officer Hsu Chien-lin.
The agency also said that a media report from China claiming that 100 independent travelers from Guangzhou would visit Taiwan on Saturday was false, after information it received from China confirmed they registered as part of a tour group.
Despite the prospects of few Chinese nationals from the six new cities visiting Taiwan in the coming weeks, the Tourism Bureau expressed optimism over the expanded program over the longer term, based on the growth in visits by independent travelers since last June.
According to bureau statistics, only about 29,000 independent Chinese travelers visited Taiwan during the second half of 2011, but nearly 27,000 had visited Taiwan during the first three months of this year.
Under the expanded program, the number of independent travelers allowed into Taiwan will also increase from 500 to 1,000 per day, and starting later this year, the program will be further extended to residents of Jinan, Xian, Fuzhou and Shenzhen.
The tourism industry said the program is expected to boost cross-strait travel this year, expecting it to generate an additional 60,000 to 70,000 Chinese visitors each year.
Though that may be only a small fraction of the 1.78 million Chinese visitor arrivals recorded in 2011, Taiwan's Travel Agent Association said the program could translate into NT$4 billion (US$135.6 million) in revenue per year.
"If we can continue on the current path of tourism exchanges with China, the program is likely to be fully opened to Chinese nationals within two years," said association secretary-general Roget Hsu.
(By Lee Hsin-Yin)