Wednesday, December 21, 2005

CITS - A Sometimes Helpful Hand

Who are they?
CITS (or China Tourism Service) were once a state owned and run company who were pretty much the only travel company you could deal with when travelling within China. Now, since China has opened up, CITS have become a private company. They are the biggest travel company in China and the chances are that if you are travelling independantly in the region you will need to deal with them in at some stage.

So are they any use?
Well, that varies from place to place. Generally they are average when compared to other companies but in some cities they are really good.

The best office we encountered was the one in Datong. They seemed like conmen at first the way they tried to grab us as we were getting off the train but they turned out to be very helpful indeed.

The worst office was in Xi'An. They were ignorant and rude (a rare thing in China) and charged extortionate rates for everything.

The office in Yangshou, although helpful, was more expensive than other travel companies in the town.

I will rate the CITS office in each town as I blog about them later.

What do they do?
They can book accomodation for you and are a good resource if you have just arrived in town and have nowhere to stay. They can get good discounts at local hotels and guesthouses (though you can always bargain a discount at hotels for yourself too), even at places where you have been told there are no vacancies.

They block-buy train tickets in all classes, which they will sell back to you with a small markup (some offices have quite a high markup). This can be a lifesaver if for whatever reason you couldn't make it to the station in tome to book one for yourself.

They also organise trips and tours of areas of interest in the region which will have an English speaking guide. However, you may be able to get a similar tour organised via your guest house or hotel for less. Check them all out before you commit to one because there can be quite a difference in price. Alternatively you can get there independantly on public transport, which will be cheaper but will probably involve an indirect route and a longer journey overall.

I'm sure there's probably someone somewhere who mayhave had a good or bad experience with CITS. Please let us all know via the comments section.

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