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Tourism in China -- where is it headed?

Guo Chunsheng, vice-manager of the Shanghai branch of the China International Travel Service, foresees ''a bright prospect'' for the future of tourism in China. ''We have people with hospitality, a rich history and splendid national heritage; also time-honored cooking and handicrafts,'' he said.

And tourism in China continues to expand: Recently 57 new cities were opened to tourists, making a total of over 120 cities. Among these new destinations are Xiamen (formerly Amoy, like Shanghai an international treaty port), Sheoxint, an ancient and cultured city, and Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius.

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But China's potential for tourism has been hampered by a shortage of hotels, buses, and guides. ''In 1978 we had 120,000 tourists - equivalent to the total of the previous 24 years,'' Mr. Guo pointed out. ''We lack experience in doing travel business.'' Now preparations are being made so that more and more tourists will be able to come to China: For instance in Peking a number of new hotels will be opening in the next year or two, including the 2,000-bed Great Wall Hotel, scheduled to open next spring. ''In 1984-85, the housing situation for tourists will be eased,'' he predicted.

Today's tourists have a much better understanding of China than those who came in the late '70s, said Mr. Guo. Those first tourists ''would ask 'May I take picture?' 'May I go into the streets?' '' This development he sees as a most encouraging sign: ''We always insist that tourism is to promote understanding and second to make money.''

Mr. Guo blamed many of China's problems in coping with tourism on the Cultural Revolution. ''During the Cultural Revolution, all was confusionm ,'' he said, with a pained expression. ''We have started a nationwide civilization and politeness month. We'd like to recover our traditional good points, our good service.''

Mr. Guo says that one reason for not encouraging individual tourists to come to China is that, again because of the Cultural Revolution, there is a shortage of trained guides. However, it is possible to accommodate individual tourists in the icy months of January and February. ''Generally speaking, if you come during the slack season, you'll have no problem.''

Mr. Guo did not feel that seeing the affluence of American travelers made the Chinese people discontented. ''Most of the Chinese people understand that their living standard is low. But they understand the reason for it, and that something is being done about it,'' he said.

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