Many Taiwan residents working in the industry believe there is great potential for the development of tourism by mainland Chinese. Last year, the number of mainland tourists exceeded those from Japan for the first time.
"We started preparing to welcome the first group of individual tourists from the Chinese mainland at the beginning of this year," said Huang Te-chen, general manager of China Travel Services (Taiwan).
She said the company has set up a 24-hour hotline for its customers to call if they need assistance, and will distribute packets including detailed information booklets, guides, maps and souvenirs. It also plans to offer options such as two- or three-day trips to destinations such as mountainous Hualien county.
Huang's and other agencies also are providing such customary services as discounts on admission fees for a few attractions, hotel booking, a public transportation package and car rental.
Transportation and security are key concerns, especially at tourist sites that haven't prepared for the increased flow of people from China's mainland, said Lao Yibo, a travel expert from Guangzhou.
In late April, a small train overturned on Taiwan's Ali Mountain area, killing five tourists from the mainland and seriously injuring at least 100 passengers. Other accidents have occurred on the island as well.
Lao suggested that visitor limits be imposed at sites where long-used facilities haven't been updated. Chou Yu-ming, a retired businessman in Taiwan, had another take on limits:
"I noticed that most of those accidents occurred in tourist sites because the facilities were crowded with too many Chinese mainland tourists, who ignored the limit load of people the places can handle," he said.
"We have a mixed feeling of excitement and fear," Chou said. "We really want to improve friendship between the two sides but we also worry about certain bad behaviors will damage the social security here."
Even so, Chou said most residents are willing to welcome people from the mainland in the way that Hong Kong and Macao did after they returned to China. He said they also are anticipating some joint business ventures in the future.
For the local merchants, the pilot program opens up business opportunities. "I'm quite pleased that I'm going to sell my self-designed clothes to the mainland tourists, who will help me earn a much wider reputation," said Yang Ya-huei, an owner and designer with a clothes shop in Taipei.
'A good sign'
In general, experts suggest that improved cooperation between the two sides should be encouraged as a long-term goal.
"The launch of the individual mainland tourist program is a good sign of the development between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, sharing in culture and business opportunities," said Yan Anlin, director of the Institute for Taiwan, Hong Kong & Macao Studies at Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.
Yan said individual travel also will give Taiwan residents and mainland tourists from the participating cities a chance to know and understand one another's traditions and life habits.
Luo Cuiming, 26, who lives in Beijing but is from Zhejiang province, wonders when the program will be extended to other provinces so she can apply. She said she wants to be able to travel in the island with her boyfriend, a photographer from Taiwan who is now working in Beijing.