THE number of prime ''Category A'' travel agencies in China jumped from 73 in 1991 to 160 at the end of 1992, with many new agencies opening, and some moving up from Category B. The overall total increased from 1,561 in 1991 to 1,860 at the end of 1992. Category A (sometimes termed ''Grade A'' or ''first category'') agencies can negotiate business with foreign tour operators directly and handle foreign visitors, overseas Chinese, and ''compatriots'' - China's term for ethnic Chinese living in Hongkong, Macau and Taiwan. According to the regulations, other categories (B and C) cannot work directly with overseas companies, although these restrictions are being widely ignored in the current drive for growth. EXPECT more of a squeeze in Shanghai, as relief from the opening of a new airport terminal at the end of 1992 may be short-lived. On expansion levels of around 30 per cent being achieved this year, the new capacity of the airport, put at seven million, will be surpassed this year. AS CHINA'S outbound travel potential increases, so does the number of special air fares from secondarypoints in the country. Three official fares have just been introduced. They are excursion fares from the north to eastern Russia, Harbin-Khabarovsk and Shenyang-Irkutsk, and Kunming-Vientiane in Laos. THE 553-room Shangri-La hotel in Shenzhen, which opened only in 1992, is running a summer discount rate until the end of August. The cost is $686, and it includes room, transfers from train station (although the hotel is within walking distance if you have light luggage), and some other small extras. Full tariffs start at $820. Contact the hotel direct on phone (86-755) 223-0888, or fax (86-755) 223-9878, or Shangri-La reservations, phone 810-7782. HYMEDIA, a company in Shenzhen, is working on developing what can be considered a technological leisure park for visitors. Details have still not been finalised, but this is expected to be similar to ''virtual reality'' attractions, and will probably cover world attractions. For that reason, the park may be primarily for domestic tourists in China rather than foreign visitors. These can be big projects. A new 5,600 sq m virtual-reality centre in Atlanta, US, took US$45 million revenue in its first year; or US$8,000 per sq m. ANOTHER good-bargain package from the 1,029-room Holiday Inn Lido, this one a conference package. For a minimum of 10 people, the package costs US$54.50 per person sharing (so US$109 per room, or US$78.50 single), and includes room, buffet breakfast, lunch, conference room, two coffee breaks with biscuits/cookies, some meeting equipment, and some other small extras. Contact the hotel direct on phone (86-1) 437-668, or fax (86-1) 437-6237, or Holiday Inn reservations, phone 736-6855. BUOYED by the success of the Special Economic Zones in China, the authorities in Xian are planning to construct a tourism development zone. Plans are to build the TDZ (if that becomes its abbreviation) around a buddhist temple 50 kilometres from the city. It will comprise a JPY100 million golf course, 67 ha holiday village, entertainment complex, conference centre, and more. No dates have been set for its completion, but this seems unlikely to be ready before 1996. TRAVEL Business Analyst, which has been monitoring the growth of China's new and burgeoning outbound travel market, estimates the total ''promotable'' number in 1992 was close to one million, making it no greater than 10th in the region. But the company makes some startling projections for the rest of the decade, on the assumption that there will be no political and economic setbacks in China. It believes that China's outbound market could grow to become the third-biggest outbound market in the Asia Pacific region by 1995, and possibly by 1994. And it goes on to project that China could become the second largest by 1997, and the largest, overtaking Japan, by the turn of the century. Currently, the Japan total is 11.8 million, but it may fall to 11.5 million this year. THE long-awaited opening of the 400-room Hilton hotel in Beijing, still not officially announced, is expected to be this August or September. The hotel is out on North Dong Sanhuan Road, near the Kempinski and Sheraton hotels. Travel agencies already have rates for a special two-night weekend package at the hotel. This costs US$170 per person sharing (so US$340 for a couple). These rates seem high for the market, even though there has been a strong recovery in the hotel business in the capital. Watch for other specials when the opening date is officially announced. Bookings through the Hilton Reservations Service, phone 846-6829. Information compiled by Travel Database, GPO Box 12761, Hongkong. Fax 507-4620.