When Shanghai Airlines flight FM 801 lands on Tuesday morning at Taipei Songshan Airport, some of its passengers will be the first mainland tourists to fly directly, on individual travel arrangements, to Taiwan.
Other tourists, on the same status, will fly to Taiwan from Beijing and Xiamen in Fujian province and about 150 people from Xiamen will take a one-hour ferry ride to Jinmen.
"We're lucky to have our clients in the first group of individual tourists landing in Taipei," said Cao Lu, operator of the Taiwan tours department for Shanghai Airlines Tours. "We also provide them with return tickets and hotel reservations."
These tourists can even choose their own accommodation, once there, if they wish.
Before Tuesday, tourists from the Chinese mainland were only allowed to visit Taiwan in group packages, following planned and guided tour routes arranged by 33 authorized travel agencies in Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen. Up to July 2008 they had to fly to other countries or regions before landing on the island.
Under this pilot program, up to 500 individual and 4,000 group tourists from the mainland will be allowed in each day. Individuals can stay for up to 15 days.
"The exchange of people is always better than the exchange of words," Shao Qiwei, chief of China's National Tourism Administration and of the Cross-Strait Tourism Exchange Association, said June 21 during an interview with CCTV.
There will be an exchange of money as well. Since 2008, mainland tourists traveling to Taiwan in groups totaled 2.34 million, and they injected an estimated NT$119.7 billion (US$4.1 billion) into the economy, said Lai Shin-yuan, the island's mainland affairs chief.
The individual travel program is expected to bring in an additional NT$9 billion to NT$19.5 billion.
The two sides of the Strait have agreed to increase the number of flights each week from 370 to 558. Travel agents expect ticket prices to decline as airlines seek to attract more individual customers. Current airfares run about 2,700 yuan ($416) plus tax for Beijing flights and at least 3,000 yuan for direct flights from Shanghai.
Taiwan's government announced the program in May 2009, but the start date wasn't set until three weeks ago. No time frame for the duration of the pilot program has been announced.
Xing Jingtian, a 60-year-old retired naval officer, and 20 other retirees from Beijing spent eight days traveling in Taiwan in March 2007. They arrived via the Philippines. At that time, Xing and others in their group needed permission for a guide-free day so some of the elders could visit relatives and friends.
People who have visited Taiwan before see the opening up for individual tourists as an opportunity to know Taiwan better.
"I definitely will go to Taiwan again in the near future as I don't think that the previous five-day trip was enough for me to see the natural scenery and taste the delicious food over there," said Xiao Tong, 27, a white-collar worker in Shanghai. She took a group trip with her mother last month to attend a wedding in Hsinchu, in northwest Taiwan.
Xiao said she prefers to travel independently. She doesn't want to go to crowded tourist attractions but instead prefers to experience the local life by interacting with residents.