Tourism talks got off to an early start in Xiamen International Exhibition Centre yesterday with the start of the first Cross-strait Travel Forum.
    One day ahead of the official opening of CIFIT, but nevertheless an important part of the fair, guests were treated to a series of activities united by the theme "Co-operation and development of cross-Straits Travel."
    Five experts and scholars from the mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao, were invited to speak in the forum and present their opinions on how to further promote exchanges and co-operation between the mainland and Taiwan.
    The participants included: Yang Kaizhong, director of China Regional Economy Research Centre of Beijing University; Li Jizhu, professor of the Department of Economy of Taiwan Cheng-chi University; Wang Guohua, president of Takungpao, Hong Kong; Yang Yunzhong, senior adviser of President of Macao University; and Li Fei, professor of Taiwan Research Institute of Xiamen University.
    The forum, which was co-sponsored by the National Administration of Tourism and the government of Fujian Province, also attracted hundreds of audience members from tourism bureaux and organizations in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao.
    Yang Kaizhong said in his speech that the development of the cross-Straits relationship, especially the influence of more people from mainland visiting Taiwan, will definitely make the western region of the Taiwan Straits a functional and powerful tourism circle.
    "The rise of the vast western region of the Taiwan Straits will propel the development of cross-Straits tourism, while allowing the region to benefit from this development," Yang said.
    Li Jizhu was keen to point out how the Taiwanese local government was setting barriers for cross-Straits tourism exchanges.
"Tourism doesn't only concern economy. There are a lot of factors, such as culture, society and human nature, which make Taiwan and the mainland appealing to each other," she said.
    The forum's activities received the firm backing of Wang Guohua, president of Takungpao, Hong Kong.
    "By fully taking advantage of the Cross-Strait Tourism Forum to encourage exchanges and elevate consensus between mainland and Taiwan, it is bound to exert a positive influence upon the cross-Straits relationship," he said.
    Yang Yunzhong spoke of the intimate relationship between Fujian and Taiwan in terms of geography, blood and culture.
    He called for Wuyi Mountain, Gulang Island and Mazu culture to strongly promoted in Fujian Province.
    Li Fei added that, all things considered, mutual benefits could be achieved by Fujian and Taiwan in the field of tourism.
    "Fujian has a huge tourism market and relatively low cost as its advantages, while Taiwan boasts its capital supply, management talents, market information and industrial passion. This is ideal for co-operation and exchange in tourism," he argued.
     Dajin Lake in Fujian Province forged a new partnership with Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan yesterday after their respective tourism associations signed an agreement to jointly promote tourism resources.
     It is the second co-operation deal struck between the tourism communities of Fujian and Taiwan following the launch of the Wuyi Mountain-Alishan Mountain partnership in May.
     According to the agreement, local tourism authorities on both sides of the Taiwan Straits will jointly market the two brands, launch a package of uniform preferential policies and design new travel routes encouraging tourists to visit the two lakes as part of one trip.
     The two sides will also set up a joint meeting mechanism to exchange information, such as the development of new scenic spots, admission charges and travel agency price quotations, and to promote a real two-way communication between the mainland and Taiwan.
     Zeng Xianghui, magistrate of Taining County, where Dajin Lake is located, applauded the agreement and said he expected the new deal to bring more Taiwan tourists to Taining Geopark, which appeared on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) geoparks list in February. So far, only 12 domestic geoparks have received the title.
    "We are looking forward to more solid and practical efforts between the tourism communities of Taining and Taiwan's Nantou County, following the new guidelines to bring in mutual benefits," Zeng told the Express.
    Despite being home to an abundance of scenic spots, access to the northwestern mountainous area of Fujian has been restricted for a long time due to its poor transport system.
    Tourists must first go to Xiamen or Fuzhou, two major cities in Fujian, and then make a six-hour journey to Taining, a prospect that often dampens interest. The county is also quite conservative in its marketing efforts, attracting less than 150,000 visitors a year, of whom no more than 1,000 are Taiwanese, said Zeng.
    However, he said he expected the situation to be greatly improved next year, boosted by the new co-operation and upgraded transportation system.
    The completion of the Beijing-Fuzhou Highway at the end of the year will give Taining a footing on the national road network, which will shorten the travelling time from Xiamen and Fuzhou to Taining to about three hours.
    However, Zeng recommends making the trip from Nanchang, capital city of the neighbouring province of Jiangxi, as it will only take only two and half hours.
    "We hope the number of visitors can rise markedly, at least double that of this year," he said.
    The magistrate studied in Singapore for two years for master's degree in economics as a part of a government project and the garden-like country made a deep impression on him.
    "It's really a terrific experience. Their city planning and management, landscape construction, their devotion to the traditional Confucian culture and their educational system was a source of enlightenment, and it drives me onwards in making Taining a better place," he said.
    At present, there are a total of nine two-star and above hotels in Taining, providing more than 4,000 beds to the tourists. According to Zeng, the county will have more luxury hotels and provide additional 3,000 hotel beds in three years to cope with the expected tourism boom.
    Xu Shaofeng, general manager of Hong Kong-funded Fujian Jin Tai Tourism Developments Co, which runs the only four-star hotel in the county, said the company plans to construct a five-star hotel there.
    The company, the biggest foreign-funded company in Taining, has invested 150 million yuan (US$18.5 million) since 2001 and also runs four scenic spots in Taining Geopark including Dajin Lake.
    He told the Express that the business will soon emerge from the shadows and could break even in three years.
     Tourism associations from Wuyishan, Fujian Province, and Chiayi, Taiwan, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in Xiamen yesterday on the joint promotion of Mount Wuyi and Alishan Mountain.
     Liu Shiming, president of Wuyishan Tourism Association and Hsiao Po-jen, chairman of Chiayi Association of Travel Agents, inked the MOU, saying it was expected to help strengthen ties in tourism, trade and cultural sectors of the two cities.
     Hsiao said he felt the collaboration to be meaningful, given the fact that Taiwan and Fujian have close links, with 80 per cent of Taiwanese being of Fujian origin.
     Mount Wuyi is located in northern Fujian and Alishan Mountain in western Taiwan. They are both popular tourist destinations.
     The parties running Mount Wuyi and Alishan Mountain have maintained sound relations, laying down a broad foundation for co-operation.
     To strengthen ties, they signed a letter of intent for joint promotion of the scenic spots in May this year.
     In the MOU signed yesterday, they agreed jointly, to design travel routes and brochures to market the two sites.
     They will research further opportunities to enhance tourism relations between the two places.
     For example, travel agents in the two places will refer their overseas clients to each other.
     The tourism websites of each place will be linked up and interaction between them facilitated.
     Visits by tourism agencies to the two places will be arranged for joint exploration of the markets.
     Tour groups and entertainment groups will join the "China Mount Wuyi Tourism Festival" due to be held in May next year.
     The related parties will promote exchanges in tea culture to extend and strengthen the co-operation of the two mountain's agents.
     Annual conferences for high-level managerial personnel from the travel industry of the two places will be held to assess the implementation of related agreements and discuss the possibility of new co-operative projects, according to the MOU.
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Editorial Department of International Investment Express for the ninth China International Fair for Investment and Trade
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