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Rail link opens up travel opportunities

THE opening of the high-speed railway link between Shanghai and Beijing brings a wealth of tourism options, not only for those two cities, but also the locations dotted along the route. Nie Xin reports., China's leading online travel services supplier, is now busy exploring new tourist routes that are expected to be launched in parallel with the new Beijing-Shanghai High-speed Railway which is now in full operation.

"Actually the preparation started early this year," says He Jing, from the marketing department. "The routes along the new railway will be very popular in the near future, especially in the upcoming summer vacation."

The 1,318-kilometer route from Shanghai Hongqiao Station to Beijing South Railway Station can cut the journey time from more than 10 hours to only 4 hours and 48 minutes with a speed of 300kph.

There are non-stop shuttles between Shanghai and Beijing. The railway authority also plans to launch direct trains from Shanghai to other major cities such as Tianjin, Ji'nan and Nanjing.

Cities along the railway have formed a tour alliance ahead of the route's official launch. The alliance consists of Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Nanjing (Jiangsu Province), Ji'nan (Shandong Province), Cangzhou (Hebei Province) and Bengbu (Anhui Province).

He says the new railway will make several well-known tourist sites more popular, such as the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum in Nanjing; the Jin Mountain and Jinshan Temple in Zhenjiang; Lingshan Grand Buddha in Wuxi; and the Lingering Garden in Suzhou.

"The high-speed train curtails the time spent on the track from one night to a couple of hours to arrive in the scenic cities," adds He.

For example, it may take tourists from Shanghai merely three to four hours to arrive at scenic spots located in Shandong Province by high-speed train.

Like, many travel agencies in Shanghai have eyed the business opportunities.

"Beijing will be a spotlight after the railway opens to the public (at the end of the month). I believe that the high-speed train, which to many is still a new thing, could help Beijing to lure tourists," says Zhou Xiang, deputy general manager in charge of domestic routes at Shanghai Spring International Travel Services Ltd.

As the train have several stations in Shandong Province, the agency plans to promote travel packages there as well.

"The cities along the Beijing-Shanghai High-speed Railway abound in tourism resources, like the Confucian Temple (in Qufu), the Mt Tai (in Tai'an) and the Cave of Fireflies (in Linyi)," Zhou adds. "And Shandong's hot springs remain unknown for many people."

Agencies expect to see an increasing number of tourists turning to inland cities instead of coastal areas after the high-speed route goes into service.

Industry insiders foresee a strong demand for tickets. Travel agencies' ability to organize high-speed travel will be restricted by ticket supply and an ID-based system to buy tickets.

"We believe the Beijing-Shanghai route has an edge considering the distance. The opening date, ticket price and purchasing procedure are the issues that are the greatest causes for concern among agencies," says Zhou.

However, the agencies also admit that the high-speed railway's role in boosting tourism is not in full swing.

Compared with the previous regular rail routes, the new projects related to the high-speed railway provide travelers with the high-speed experience. But so far, the schedule for sightseeing has little change.

China's railway ministry announced the speed-based trial prices for the Beijing-Shanghai High-speed Railway last week.

Tickets for trips on trains running at 300kph are priced between 555 yuan (US$85.60) for second-class seats and 1,750 yuan for top-class class.

Prices for journeys on 250kph trains will range from 410 yuan to 650 yuan.

"That means tourists will pay more if they take the high-speed train," says He. "Few travel groups would choose high-speed trains on the routes between Shanghai to Nanjing and Shanghai to Hangzhou because of the high price."

In addition to traveling by the railway, taking a bus or ordinary train for a short trip to cities near Shanghai is also an option for many citizens, especially students during their summer holidays.

Shanghai Tour Bus Center, the functional institute which provides basic services for independent travelers, has launched special trips for the upcoming summer vacation.

The new lines include trips to Liantang Wild Rice Stem Festival in September, Zhujiajiao, Wuzhen, Luzhi Ancient Town, Hangzhou's Leifeng Tower and a pear-picking tour in Suzhou.

"We will also launch our popular Oriental Land in suburban Qingpu District next month. This seven-day summer camp, open to students aged from eight to 14 years old, will attract many young students, enjoying group life, getting close to nature and activities full of fun," says Shen Li, from the Shanghai Tour Bus Center.


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