CHINA'S National Tourism Administration (NTA) has cleared the way for the setting up of 23 joint-venture travel companies but none will open this year, a top official says. Only Tianjin in northern China had signed an agreement with a foreign partner and submitted an application for approval of its joint venture, NTA chairman Liu Yi said. The main problem is that most of the tourist sites permitted to establish the joint-venture travel companies have not finished building adequate facilities. 'But we'll try to accelerate that process this year and next year, especially since next year is China Resort '96,' Mr Liu said at the Hong Kong International Travel Exposition yesterday. The lack of suitable facilities and the rather remote locations of some of the tourist sites have meant that the Chinese have had trouble finding foreign partners. Foreign companies also are often more interested in establishing wholly owned travel companies in China - which are still prohibited - rather than joint ventures, Mr Liu said. In 1992, the NTA decided to allow joint-venture travel companies to be set up at 12 tourist spots, including Qingdao, Guangxi, Dalian, Suzhou and Hangzhou. Since those areas have failed to find partners, the NTA has decided to extend the privilege to five key cities, one province and a couple of ministries. Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong each may set up two joint-venture travel companies. Tianjin, Xian and Guilin can have one each. An additional two joint ventures may be established by subsidiaries of China's ministries. Mr Liu said China was also working to expand its overseas travel business activity. In addition to Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines, which already accept Chinese tour groups, NTA has completed tourist agreements with Australia, South Korea, Russia and Indonesia. Negotiations with Japan are still under way. Mr Liu said the NTA would continue to focus most of its attention on developing the domestic travel market. Besides the difficulties in obtaining passports and visas, China is still a developing country and living standards are too low to support large-scale overseas travel services. 'The main purpose of China's tourism industry for the foreseeable future will continue to be attracting foreign exchange. The emphasis will be on receiving tourists,' he said. To boost confidence among foreigners in the management of China's travel industry, the tourism administration in March began a quality service guarantee fund for travel agencies plan. Under this policy, travel agencies will have to contribute money, beginning in July, to be used for the settlement of travel indemnities. Travel companies will contribute either 600,000 yuan, 300,000 yuan or 150,000 yuan to the fund depending on whether they are engaged in international or domestic travel business. In addition, the NTA has set national standards for service in transportation, sightseeing, food and beverages, accommodation, shopping and entertainment. Mr Liu said tourism accounted for 3.7 per cent of China's gross domestic product last year, but he would like to see that amount reach five per cent by 2000, and ultimately 10 per cent.