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No Group Tickets for Tibet Train Tours

2006-07-21

From the opening day of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway on July 1, trains have been transporting approximately 3,000 passengers to Tibet daily. The train is always full and proving to be hugely popular for a range of reasons including its convenience, cost and of course the quite incredible scenery en route. However, there are limited numbers of tickets for each train and supply is simply not meeting demand. Tourists dreaming of visiting Tibet have fueled a growing black market where the face value of tickets has been tripled and in some cases the figures quoted are much higher than that. To cut down on ticket speculation, the railway authorities are to stop selling group tickets to Tibet from July 23, according to a China Youth Daily report on Thursday. Meanwhile, every individual ticket purchaser is only permitted to buy two sleepers or three seat tickets, according to the authority. However, the tickets are still been sold ten days in advance at Beijing railway station. But Xining station has shortened its pre-sale availability to five days. Last week the sale of group tickets to Lhasa from Xining were suspended. Xining, capital of northwest China's Qinghai Province, is the departure point for the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. At present three passenger trains travel to Tibet from Beijing, Chengdu (or Chongqing), and Xining (or Lanzhou) everyday. The cancellation of group ticket sales has likely led to losses for some travel agents who've been touting tourist packages since the railway went into operation. Now many travel agents have cancelled their Tibet rail tour excursions. Previously Beijing's travel agents were permitted to buy 20 tickets from railway stations ten days in advance.

According to a survey by Ctrip, China's online travel service, 18 percent of respondents selected Tibet as their favored destination for a holiday this summer. One local newspaper said long queues had been a usual scene in front of the ticket windows at Xining railway station. Every morning at 8 AM, staff open for business and begin to sell the Tibet tickets. And within just 20-30 minutes, all the tickets are sold out. Some people desperate to travel have queued for three days and still failed to get a ticket. Similar scenes can also be witnessed at Beijing western railway station where the train departs for Tibet. The hard-to-get tickets have attracted many touts. One hard sleeper ticket from Xining to Lhasa costs 509 yuan (US$64), but in the hands of a tout the price could be as much as 1500 or even 3000 yuan (US$188 to $375), a local newspaper reported. And the entrance ticket to the Potala Palace has also been doubled or even tripled by touts. The management of the Palace restricts visitor numbers and just 2300 tickets are available each day. In order to stop the touting of tickets all visitors must identify themselves when buying a ticket and when using it. Tibetan hotels and tour buses have also raised their prices because of the high demand. There are now 7,000 visitors to Tibet each day. Previously only 2,000 travelers visited daily and they traveled by air or road. Many travel agencies have thought twice about introducing the Tibet package tour next month. A cooling down of interest in tours of Tibet would provide all concerned a chance for some rational thinking on tourism development of Tibet, a tourism insider said.


(Source:China Daily , 2006-07-21)