BEIJING, China - Chen Wenjing's ambitious plan to go backpacking in Taiwan to see the island up close and personal is about to come true.
"I've been on a group tour to Taiwan. Our schedule then was very tight, and we rushed around the island and only caught glimpses of things. This time, I will walk on every street with my backpack and taste all kinds of local cuisine," Chen, a resident of the southern city Shenzhen, said as she filled out an application form to take a trip to Taiwan as an individual tourist from the mainland.
Tuesday marked the day that residents in the four mainland cities of Jinan, Shenzhen, Fuzhou and Xi'an were officially allowed to apply to travel to Taiwan as individuals under a cross-Strait agreement, bringing the total such mainland cities to 13.
"Individual trips to Taiwan will be hot products for Shenzhou residents, as the city is very close to Hong Kong, where daily flights to Taipei and Kaohsiung abound," said Zeng Haisheng, head of the Taiwan department of Shenzhen Huaqiaocheng China Travel Service.
Zeng revealed that the company will present a series of travel products for individual tourists that will include plane tickets, hotel bookings and passes for various tourist attractions on the island.
According to Zhu Jun, a marketing manager with Shenzhen Port CTS Co., Ltd., the first batch of 120 seats for individual trips to Taiwan filled up less than two weeks after the product was launched in early August.
In addition to passes to tourist attractions, travel agencies in Fuzhou have offered "semi-individual" services that provide tour guides and transportation services in far-flung sites such as the Ali Mountain area and the Sun and Moon Lake, while tourists can tour freely in city districts.
"These semi-individual products have been much loved by tourists, as they offer conveniences as well as give backpackers the freedom to customize their trips," said Yang Wenying with China International Travel Service (Fujian) Co., Ltd.
An overall ban on traveling to the island was lifted by Taiwanese authorities in July 2008. However, mainlanders at that time could only travel to the island as part of tightly-run tour groups, business trips, academic visits and trips related to family affairs.
On June 28 last year, Taiwan opened its doors to independent tourists from the three mainland cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen.
Figures from Taiwan's tourism authorities show that more than 78,000 mainland residents had traveled to the island individually as of May this year, bringing with them some 4.2 billion new Taiwan Dollars (140 million U.S. dollars).
The mainland is currently the largest source of tourists to the island.In 2011, more than 1.78 million mainland residents visited Taiwan, a year-on-year increase of 9.4 percent. Mainlanders accounted for nearly one-third of the 6.08 million visitors the island received last year, according to Taiwanese tourism authorities.
Fuzhou resident Wu Xiaoling booked a semi-individual tour on Tuesday at a local travel agency, with a leisurely plan to sightsee in Taipei for three days and then go out to the Ali Mountain area and the Kenting Forest Recreation Area.
"Now that individual tourism (to Taiwan) is available... it's not necessary to travel to every corner of the island in one trip. More places will be on my itineraries for future tours," Wu said.