World Cup Still Far Away for Local Fans

One of Shanghai's largest travel agencies says it has secured 1,000 tickets for China's first three games in this summer's World Cup, but local soccer fans will have to pay through the nose if they want to travel to South Korea to watch the excitement live.

Spring International Travel Service Co. is offering tours to South Korea - including air fare, hotel for four or five days, and one stadium ticket - for 12,000 yuan (US$1,450). Normally, the company sells tours to South Korea for 3,000 yuan.

Why the massive increase in price? Fans think the agency is trying to profit from the limited number of tickets available, but the agency blames airlines and hotels for increasing their prices during the World Cup.

"The high price for the package tour is due to the increased cost of flights and hotels, which are expected to rise sharply," said Jiang Weihao of the Spring International Travel Service Co. The company says it currently has 1,000 tickets, each with a face value of US$60.

The travel agency said that about 100 city residents have called to reserve tickets, but so far none has paid the reservation fee of 4,000 yuan.

No matter who is to blame, the price gouging flies in the face of FIFA's attempts to make the tournament affordable to domestic soccer fans. Before the World Cup draw, FIFA promised local fans that China would play the group games in South Korea, as it is much cheaper for fans to travel there than to Japan, the tournament's other co-host.

Fans aren't buying the travel agency' explanation for the increased fares.

"Could the airfare and hotel costs increase by fourfold?" asked Qu Yong, who works for a South Korean firm's Shanghai office.

Analysts say part of the problem is that fans can't buy tickets without signing up for a full tour package. That's because the Chinese Football Association has granted its full allotment of tickets to travel agencies, preventing fans from buying tickets and then making their own travel plans.

The CFA has so far been granted a quota of 10,500 tickets for China's first three games, against Costa Rica, Brazil and Turkey, but some analysts predict up to 100,000 local soccer fans will be looking to buy tickets for those matches.

There are 150,000 tickets available for the three games, but most of them are in the hands of Koreans, meaning local fans would probably have to pay hefty fees to scalpers to get their hands on them.

Some Shanghai travel agencies have offered US$180 for tickets with a face value of US$60, only to be rejected.

Other travel agencies, which are still seeking tickets from other sources, say the price Spring Inter-national is charging is too high.

"We estimate the price will be about 8,000 yuan if we can get tickets from our partners in South Korea after the Spring Festival," said Zhao Dexiang with Shanghai China International Travel Service Co.

( February 4, 2002)

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