Houston Community News >> Chinese Tourist Red Carpet Welcome

2/11/2008 TAIPEI, Taiwan (China Post) -- A total of 668 Chinese tourists aboard the Rhapsody of the Sea enjoyed a warm welcome yesterday soon after the largest ocean liner in Asia berthed at the Keelung harbor in northern Taiwan at 11 a.m., marking a historic visit to the island by the largest-ever Chinese tourist group.

The Chinese tourists, arriving on the luxury ocean liner that set out from Hong Kong, walked from the Keelung port on a red carpet into a fleet of buses for a half-day of sightseeing in nearby Taipei.

The buses bound for the National Palace Museum, the first sightseeing spot, and then went on to the Liberty Square, formerly Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. They canceled a scheduled visit to the Taipei 101 Tower, the tallest skyscraper in the world.

Yet, the Chinese tourists still took time to visit the "Temple Entrance" of Keelung to enjoy famous local snacks and foods, before departing Keelung yesterday evening.

The tourists reached the southern port of Kaohsiung at 9:30 p.m. yesterday, and were scheduled to have a half-day tour of Kaohsiung today, including walking 200 stairs to enjoy vegetarian food at the Fokuangshan Temple in Kaohsiung, the largest Buddhist temple in southern Taiwan.

The visitors were estimated to generate business worth over NT$10 million in the two largest cities in Taiwan, according to travel agencies.

The Rhapsody of the Sea is the first ocean liner to be given the green light by the Cabinet-level Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) to bring Chinese tourists to Taiwan via a third country or area.

With 1,485 holidaymakers aboard, including those from Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and China, the ocean liner is scheduled to leave Kaoshiung at 3:00 p.m. today for a return voyage to Hong Kong.

"It's a new arrangement for Chinese people to come by ocean liner," a MAC spokeswoman. "We changed the rule before the Lunar New Year (Feb. 6-11), and this is the first group that applied," he added.

In fact, the MAC is "torn between love and fear" of the visit by such a large number of Chinese travelers, hoping the visit provides a shot in the arm to the government's plan of "doubling the number of foreign tourists" while fearing that some of them might abscond in Taiwan.

Based on MAC rules, the two Taiwan travel agencies authorized to sponsor the visits face a fine of NT$200,000 for each Chinese tourist who runs away.

Taipei blocks most mainland Chinese travelers from visiting Taiwan for security reasons or out of fear of visitors overstaying their visa on the relatively wealthy island.

But this month the Cabinet passed a rule allowing Chinese tourists to arrive via ship from ports outside mainland China.

(Contributed by China Post)