Feature: Taiwan gears up for summer travel peak

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TAITUNG, Taiwan, June 30 (Xinhua) -- On a Pacific island off the east coast of Taiwan, groups of tourists, armed to the teeth with sun-proof garments, are seen riding motorcycles under the scorching sun, in long straight lines along the narrow roads.

This makes quite a scene of the Green Island, a volcanic island of only about 16 square kilometers and about 30 km away from Taitung County.

With no taxis, motorcycles are a convenient means of transport to get around for tourists, who flock to the island for its magnificent oceanic scenery featuring beautiful beaches and astonishing corals as well as its renowned diving experiences.

"This is the busiest season for us," said Gou Geng-you, who runs a homestay of nine rooms on the island. "My place is fully booked every day."

Each day, several thousand tourists take the ferry or airplane to Green Island from Taitung County. They have made the lives of only several hundred local residents on the island busy, many of whom run dining, accommodation, and transportation businesses.

Gou and his wife, for example, are busy running the homestay and also driving tourists around with his brown sedan, which is normally booked for a whole day at a price of around 3,500 new Taiwan dollars (about 110 U.S. dollars).

"I've lived here for eight years and I love it," the middle-aged man said, his tanned face always giving a nice smile.

Just 30 km away, in Taitung, the summer has been lightened up by a hot air balloon festival that kicked off this weekend. The opening ceremony alone attracted over 10,000 visitors on the early morning of Saturday, who spanned a lawn slope of the Luye highland, an ideal place for flying balloons.

The balloons this year were mostly in the shapes of cartoon characters and animals such as Hulk, Sponge Bob, butterfly, bee and pig. After successfully taking off, the balloons fly high in the sky and wander the beautiful mountain valleys of Taitung.

During the 45-day festival, visitors can book balloon trips scheduled twice a day. However, organizers said the trips are so popular that tourists had to make reservations days in advance.

A nine-year-old boy surnamed Xu came to watch the balloons with his mum all the way from Taipei. "I like the Hulk-shaped balloon most, but I can't take a ride this time because we didn't book early enough."

Rao Ching-ling, magistrate of Taitung, told reporters that Taitung has made great effort into this festival, aiming to attract tourists of different age groups. "We also welcome tourists from the Chinese mainland."

In the past few years, due to changes in cross-Strait relations, Taiwan has seen a drop in the number of mainland tourists. Figures show the Sun Moon Lake, a famous tourist spot in Taiwan, only received 830,000 mainland tourists last year, 1.42 million less than the figure in 2014.

Xiao Yu, who works for a local travel agency in Hualien, also east Taiwan, said their business has been affected by this change. "Now there are almost no travel groups from the mainland and only some individual tourists come to Hualien occasionally."

"Of course it will be good for us if there are more tourists," she said.

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