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Multilingual service sorely needed for booking train tickets, association says

By Li Lei | China Daily | Updated: 2018-12-22 11:23

The national railway operator's ticket booking systems should provide versions in foreign languages.[Photo/IC]

The national train ticket booking system should provide versions in foreign languages because the number of foreign travelers in China continues to grow, the China Consumers Association has proposed.

While many domestic airlines and online travel services have launched English versions for ticket booking, the national railway operator's ticket booking systems - the 12306 hotline, 12306.cn website and its mobile phone app - are available only in Chinese, the association said in a recent report.

In consequence, foreign travelers who do not speak Chinese face difficulties on the ticket-selling platform including for high-speed trains.

China Railway Corp declined to comment on the report.

The association said that the lack of foreign-language service was raised in the media five years ago, but has been not solved yet.

In contrast, the four major Chinese airlines - Air China, China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines and Hainan Airlines - all have hotlines and websites in English and other languages.

Online travel services such as Ctrip also have versions in English, where foreigners can buy air and train tickets. But even if they successfully book train tickets, they still have to get them at ticket windows of railway stations, which often means waiting in long lines.

"12306 is more than a train ticket seller - it represents the country's reform and opening-up," the association said.

In the first half of this year, 24 million foreign tourists visited China, a year-on-year increase of about 67 percent, according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

The number of international students in China has increased by more than 10 percent a year in both of the past two years, reaching almost 490,000 in 2017, according to the Ministry of Education.

Many of the foreign travelers struggle with the national train ticket booking systems available only in Chinese.

Lee Benson, an international student from the Republic of Korea who has been in Beijing for four years, said he has never bought train tickets through the official platform because of the language difficulties. Instead, the 22-year-old said he used ticket agencies, like Ctrip, that offer multilingual service.

"Though I speak some Chinese, I still wish I could be served in my mother tongue, because ticket booking is usually very complicated," he said.

Anzhelika Kazakova, a Russian IT engineer in Beijing who has constantly traveled by train over the past seven years, said the lack of English service on the 12306.cn often complicates ticket booking.

"The app has some confusing names for a few small towns," she said. "But it has simple user interface design that is understandable after some practice".

The 35-year-old said it is crucial for the platform to note general information in English, such as that it only works between 6:00 am to 11:00 pm, and that tickets are hard to get during the travel peak ahead of Chinese New Year.

"Besides, there's no information about international trains. You can only get one from a special office near the central station," he added.

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