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Cross-Straits Travel Companies to Cooperate

Online travel service firms Ctrip and ezTravel have teamed up to offer holidays across the Taiwan Straits.

Ctrip International Ltd, the biggest online travel service firm on the Chinese mainland, and ezTravel Co Ltd, its counterpart in Taiwan, formed a strategic alliance yesterday in Beijing.

"Many people are very interested in going to the 'island of treasure'," said James Liang, CEO of Shanghai-based Ctrip. "Now, with the partnership with ezTravel, we are ready to launch the services, as soon as the authorities give their approval."

Yesterday, Ctrip launched several tourist routes from five mainland cities to Taiwan on its website.

Tour prices range from more than 6,000 yuan (US$720) to 19,000 yuan (US$2,290).

ezTravel is renowned for its hotel and ticket booking resources, as well as experience in online services.

The company also operates the only round-the-island luxury train tour in Taiwan, which is a popular attraction.

But the tourism industries on both sides are still waiting for the green light from the Taiwanese authorities for unrestricted tours for mainland tourists.

There are no direct flights from the mainland to Taiwan despite the fact that there are no restrictions imposed by the mainland on visitors traveling to the island. The Taiwanese authorities, however, have not made final arrangements on their side with respect to unrestricted travel for mainlanders.

In May, it was announced that a maximum of 1,000 mainland tourists per day would be allowed to entry into Taiwan.

Despite the quota, enthusiasm from mainlanders was so great that on May 24, the first day that reservations could be made, more than 300 Beijing residents made applications to travel agencies and more than 1,000 would-be jet-setters from Guangzhou telephoned travel service companies inquiring about Taiwan tours.

Jennifer Lan, senior manager of vacation products at Ctrip, said: "If we look at the demand for the near future, it may not be very huge, but when the policies come out, Taiwan will be a hot destination."

Jim Sun, a Shanghai-based Internet industry analyst, also agreed on the significance of the partnership, but said tours will mainly bring political gains, while economic benefits may not be very big.

On the other hand, the two companies will also be able to tap the market for trips to the mainland.

Lan said 7 million Taiwanese visit the mainland every year, and about one tenth of them are ezTravel customers. About 80 percent go on packaged tours.

As per their partnership terms, accommodation on the mainland for ezTravel's packaged tour customers will be taken care of by Ctrip.

On June 6, fifty travel agencies across the Taiwan Straits gathered in Fuzhou City in east China's Fujian Province to discuss cross-Straits tourism. The meeting, arranged by the Fujian Provincial Tourism Association (FPTA), attracted 29 travel agencies from Taiwan and 21 from Fujian. It was the first time travel organizations from Fujian Province and Taiwan had met since the mainland gave the green light to trips to Taiwan in May.

(China Daily, Xinhua News Agency June 8, 2005)

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