Ctrip.com has hired 15 senior managers from rival Smart Travel - one of the mainland's largest traditional hotel-booking agencies - to aid its expansion. The move by the Shanghai-based on-line travel agency has raised concerns among traditional travel companies that their survival may be endangered unless they embrace the Internet. However, Ctrip.com president Neil Shen believes while traditional firms will be pressured by the growth of on-line agencies, the impact will not be grave for at least the next few years. 'They [traditional agencies] will get hurt, but I don't think they will disappear in the next few years,' he said. While growth of on-line business was expected to be rapid, it would still account for only about 3 per cent to 5 per cent in the next three years, he added. He estimated on-line business now accounted for less than 0.1 per cent of the mainland's 400 billion yuan (about HK$350 billion) travel market. Meanwhile, many traditional and on-line agencies would co-operate with each other in order to bolster competitiveness, with hybrid operations becoming the norm, Mr Shen said. 'Most companies will become off and on-line companies, depending on how aggressive they want to be.' While some traditional firms will set up their own on-line operations, they may also form alliances with established on-line agencies in order to expand operations and spread operating costs over a larger business volume. On-line agencies like Ctrip can benefit by linking with traditional agencies, whose entrenched industry relationships and established fulfilment infrastructure take years to build. 'We need to leverage the resources of traditional agencies,' he said, adding Ctrip has formed partnerships with regional agencies to enhance its capability to fulfil orders in remote areas. Ctrip.com offers on-line booking of hotels, tours, rail and airline tickets, as well as information about mainland tourist destinations. Launched in October, Ctrip.com is aiming to achieve sales of between HK$5 billion to HK$8 billion this year. The company will make use of the extensive hotel relationships of the Smart Travel executives, to help strengthen its hotel-booking network. The executives include Smart Travel's president and founder Wu Hai, its general manager and various divisional managers. They will increase Ctrip's number of employees to 120. Mr Hai will become Ctrip's vice-president of commerce, responsible for hotels-related booking and relationship building. Smart Travel, which has annual revenues of more than 250 million yuan, is majority-owned by a Hong Kong-based investment fund. Mr Shen has decided not to acquire Smart Travel because it does not want to take with it the latter's labour-intensive operating structure, which would make business integration difficult. 'In traditional agencies, the back-and-forth communications between customer and the agents are very labour intensive,' he said. 'We don't need those junior service people.' On-line agencies such as Ctrip allow customers to do their own trip arrangements on-line, which reduces front-line customer-services needed.