First Tibetan tourists travel to Taiwan
LHASA - A group of Tibetan tourists, averaging age 60, took off Friday from Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region for Taiwan, marking the first trip of tourists from Tibet to Taiwan since the island opened its doors to mainland tourists in 2008.
The group includes 13 retired Tibetan government workers and a tour guide. They are expected to spend ten days touring the Taiwan island and the war-time frontier islet of Kinmen, said Huang Lihua, the manager of Tibet's local travel agency that sponsored the trip.
Sonam Gyaltsen, a tourist, said he was glad that his dream of going to Taiwan was about to come true. "I want to visit more places and to experience more of the island," he said.
The Tibetan tourists have to change planes twice before reaching Taiwan, as there is no direct air link between the two Chinese regions.
Taiwan, separated from the mainland after the civil war in 1949, only began allowing mainland tourists to visit the island in 2008. Authorities in Tibet approved Taiwan-bound tourism in 2010.
About 1.23 million mainland tourists visited Taiwan last year, a sharp increase of 127.8 percent year on year, according to the latest statistics released by the island's tourist authority on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, in 2010 alone, tourists to Tibet numbered 6.85 million, up 380 percent from 2005. In that year, 7.14 billion yuan was generated from tourism, up 370 percent from five years earlier.
Local tourism authorities aim to attract 15 million tourists, generating some 16 billion yuan (2.4 billion U.S. dollars) in revenue by 2015.