Beijing has signalled an expansion in its experiment with Sino-foreign joint-venture travel agencies, allowing larger foreign participation in the booming tourism sector. Only three Sino-foreign joint-venture travel agencies operate in the mainland - all on a trial basis. One is in Yunnan province and the other two in Guangdong. Expected entry into the World Trade Organisation is accelerating the mainland's push for more joint-venture travel agencies, according to the semi-official Hong Kong China News Agency. As part of the move, Beijing was expected to see the launch of its first joint-venture travel agency - an alliance between Beijing Tourism and a Malaysia-based company, the agency said. Agreements have been reached between the two parties, with the contract expected to be sealed this month pending approval from the State Tourism Administration. Joint-venture talks were also being held between a Beijing Tourism member and Accor, the giant French travel, hotel, and tourism group, the agency said. Swiss company Diethelm was the first foreign company to break new ground in terms of mainland joint ventures. In May 1998, it set up a travel agency with state-owned Yunnan Tourism Group and China International Travel Services. Hong Kong tour operators have also ventured into the mainland travel industry to tap the fast-growing market. SAR-based Hong Thai Citizens Travel Services and Wing On Travel had formed Sino-foreign joint ventures with mainland-based travel companies in Guangdong, the report said. Last year, the tourism industry brought in record revenues of 400.2 billion yuan (about HK$387.56 billion), representing a 16.4 per cent rise from the previous year. The 719 million domestic tourist arrivals generated revenues of 283.1 billion yuan. By contrast, there were 72.79 million foreign tourist arrivals during the year. Foreign currency revenues generated by the tourism industry rose 11.9 per cent, to US$14.1 billion. This meant that the mainland ranked seventh in the world tourism stakes in terms of revenues.