CHINA'S big three airlines - Air China, China Southern, and China Eastern - have joined the Geneva-based International Air Transport Association (IATA). Members of this association represent about 90 per cent of the world's international scheduled air traffic. Both of Hong Kong's passenger airlines, Cathay Pacific and Dragonair, are IATA members. This development will not only affect airlines, it will also mean the emergence of IATA-licenced travel agencies in China. IATA has a well-respected travel agent training programme, so this should mean at least better-trained personnel in China. It should also mean a more liberal and, therefore, more efficient service by travel agencies. An IATA licence would allow agencies to sell air tickets on all IATA airlines (as well as non-IATA airlines). However, IATA has already been more flexible in introducing some of its rules in Asia, and there is a possibility that it will not push China to implement the reforms that are needed in its control of travel agencies. THE Shangri-La hotel group, which has seven hotels in China, has introduced two specials that will either reduce the cost of its rooms to travellers, or increase the facilities for the same price. The first is like a corporate rate programme, although companies need not book a minimum number of nights to get these rates. This is only for the group's hotels in Beijing (the China World, Shangri-La, and Traders), and in Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Xian. The rates include a guaranteed upgrade to the next room category, airport/hotel transfers, daily full breakfast, dry cleaning and laundry, check-out at 1800, faxes and phone calls at cost, and no charge for incoming faxes. The rates vary, but for lowest category, they are US$220 (quoted in US$) for the China World, $150 for the Shangri-La, and $160 for Traders. In Shanghai $170, Shenzhen $950 (the only major city where prices are not quoted in US$), and Xian $90. These rates are due to end on March 31; the Shenzhen hotel will not reopen until December 15, and there will be an increase in 1994 in the rates at the Shangri-La in Beijing of about $30. The second offer is a straightforward winter promotion programme, starting from the middle of this month, with special packages at all the group's seven hotels in China. The cheapest starts at $50 although this is for the hotel in Xian. Most specials run through to the end of February or the middle of March. Contact Shangri-La reservations, phone 810-7782. THE Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) no longer operates an airline of that name, but still has control over much of the activities of the country's airlines. Some recent moves have been to liberalise pricing, and CAAC now allows some freedom in fare-fixing. China's airlines can offer as much as 20 per cent off the set fares. After the change was announced, China Southern Airlines, based in Guangzhou, introduced fares for groups of 10 people at a 10 per cent discount, and Guangzhou-Tianjin-Shenyang round trips at 10 per cent below the sum of the two one-ways. And China Eastern Airlines has been offering lower prices on its new flights from Shanghai to Bangkok. Although these are modest discounts and still not the only development taking place, the move is important because it is official and it is a move to market pricing. HERE is an adventure package to Tibet. A five-night package with the first night in Chengdu after a Dragonair flight from Hong Kong; the following day, on China Southwest Airlines to Lhasa. The hotel to stay in Lhasa is the Holiday Inn. Costs $9,960 per person sharing ($19,920 per couple). The package is a one-off departure, leaving Hong Kong on December 7. Contact Frontieres 56 Travel, phone 521-0571, or fax 868-4479. UNOFFICIALLY, the China National Tourism Administration estimates that the number of Chinese nationals travelling internationally will be five million in 1995, and 10 million a year by 2000. The figures on which these forecasts are based are probably the country's official 1992 total of 2.9 million. But on lower base figures (just short of one million in 1992), Travel Business Analyst, a travel research company, is more optimistic. It predicts that if there are no political or major economic setbacks, China will become the region's third-biggest source of outbound travellers by 1995, and possibly by 1994. The company goes on to project that it will become the second largest by 1997, and the largest, overtaking Japan, by 2000. THE Palace hotel in Beijing, part of Hong Kong's Peninsula group, has introduced winter rates running through to March 15. These are US$155, and include some small extras. The hotel has been the city's most expensive, alongside Shangri-La's China World. Contact Peninsula reservations, phone 840-7722, or fax 845-5508. Information compiled by Travel Database, GPO Box 12761, Hong Kong. Fax 507-4620.