The woman in the China Travel Service (CTS), angrily waving a list of Chinese going on a 30,000-yuan (about HK$28,000) tour of Europe, said: 'The British embassy is the worst. They still believe all the Chinese are poor and want to emigrate. They cannot understand some Chinese are rich.' Standing next to her is a retired woman who is spending more than 20,000 yuan for a tour of Australia and New Zealand with 20 other people. Last year she spent 30,000 yuan to go to six European countries - not including Britain. On the wall outside is an advertisement for a 15-day visit to the World Table Tennis Tournament in Britain, followed by a tour of Germany, France, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, departing at the end of April and costing 30,900 yuan. The mass tourism of Chinese has begun. As a sign of it, the Pacific Asia Travel Association is holding its annual conference in Beijing from today. Its growth will depend less on the spending habits and wishes of Chinese travellers than on host countries who have to balance a desire for tourist dollars against their fear that some of the visitors will not go home. Official figures show that, in 1996, 27,000 Beijing people went on organised tours, about double the number in 1995, nearly all to Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. These numbers do not tell the whole story. Chinese can obtain tourist visas to countries outside Southeast Asia, although with greater difficulty, or apply for a 'business trip' which often consists mainly of tourism. This requires a letter of invitation or guarantee from a sponsor or company in the host country. Faced with this potentially lucrative market, foreign governments react differently. Japan, which has a serious problem of illegal Chinese immigration, does not issue tourist visas to Chinese but is considering it. Australia eagerly courts the Chinese market. In 1996, it had 54,000 short-term Chinese visitors, including tourists, business travellers and those visiting relatives, and expects more than 80,000 this year. It has applied to the China National Tourism Administration to be designated an official tourism destination - of which there are only six at present. This designation would make it easier for Chinese to apply for visas and enable Australia to do more advertising and promotion in China. One Australian tourism official said that the problem of over-stayers had greatly improved over the past 18 months because the government was working closely with the nine designated Chinese travel agents to ensure the bona fides of the applicants. Embassies demand bank statements, letters from employers, proof that the traveller will return to China and some insist on a personal interview with each individual applicant. There was no tourism in the Maoist days. Chinese did not have the money nor the approval to go abroad. Only a small number of students and officials were able to leave the country, usually leaving their spouse and children behind to try to ensure that they return. Beijing approved organised tourism only in 1984, to Hong Kong and Macau, to allow people to visit their relatives in the two places, in part as a way to reduce the flow of illegals by providing a legal exit channel. This was extended in 1991 to organised tourism to Southeast Asian countries and nine companies are authorised to arrange such tours. Chinese can take up to US$1,000 and 6,000 yuan in cash without special approval and the procedure of obtaining a passport has been simplified. A survey of Beijing citizens published last week showed an average monthly income of 879 yuan, with 14.9 per cent earning between 1,000 and 2,000 and the top 2.7 per cent earning more than 2,000. The wealthiest people are private business people, company managers and those who work in foreign-owned joint ventures. Cun Zhipeng, who heads the Southeast Asian division of CTS, said none of his firm's tourists had stayed on illegally in the countries they visited, because they had good jobs and lives to come back to at home. He expects the flow of tourists to increase as China becomes more like other countries. 'It depends on foreign governments giving visas.'