As many as 700 Chinese tourists are expected to make port in Taiwan today aboard the Rhapsody of the Sea -- Asia's largest ocean liner -- making them the largest Chinese tourist group ever to be allowed to visit the nation, the Chinese-language United Daily News reported yesterday.
To welcome the tourists, the Mainland Affairs Council has decided to relax the government's "no more than 1,000 visitors per day" restriction and to offer the tourists rapid customs clearance, the report said.
The report said that the council was "torn between loving and fearing" the visit by such a large number of Chinese travelers -- anticipating that the visits would provide a shot in the arm to the administration's "doubling the number of foreign tourists" plan, while fearing that some of them might abscond in Taiwan.
Council regulations mean that the two local travel agencies authorized to sponsor the visits would be fined NT$200,000 (US$6,200) for every Chinese tourist that runs away.
The Rhapsody of the Sea is scheduled to berth at Keelung Harbor today -- the last day of the six-day Lunar New Year holiday -- and at Kaohsiung Harbor tomorrow.
The tourists are scheduled to be bused to Taipei City today for a half-day tour, with another half-day tour of Kaohsiung City scheduled for tomorrow.
The visitors are expected to generate NT$10 million in the two cities, the travel agencies said.
The Royal Caribbean International's Rhapsody of the Sea is the first ocean liner to be given the green light by the council to bring Chinese tourists to Taiwan via a third country or area.
With more than 2,000 visitors aboard from Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong, the Rhapsody of the Sea is scheduled to leave Kaohsiung late tomorrow for its return voyage to Hong Kong.
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