Expert calls for more oversight of fledgling 'chaotic' online market
The costly voyage to space has drawn attention from wealthy young people, for whom tickets have been a hot item online, but the cost of the trips and the safety of participants need more supervision from authorities, one expert says.
A man from Zhejiang province booked a trip to space from an online travel agency and gave the full payment, about 630,000 yuan (S$126,000), in June.
After paying for the costly space voyage, he went to travel in South Africa.
"In fact, 36 people have finished the procedures, including physical examination, and paid the deposit, and are ready for the training for the space voyage," said Du Xiyong, deputy manager of Dexo Travel, a domestic travel agent that acted as the sole broker in China for Space Expedition Corp, a Dutch firm providing private space travel.
In addition, about six people are in the process of evaluation from the Dutch provider.
The business grew faster than expected, since the online application just started on June 12, which shows the promising future of luxury tourism, he said.
Most of the participants are entrepreneurs from major cities like Shanghai and Beijing, Du said, adding that some domestic celebrities will join the rare trip as well.
Under the arrangement with the Dutch company, the man from Zhejiang province will be in the first group with other applicants from foreign countries who are likely to enjoy the space trip as early as the fourth quarter of 2015.
The current service has three modules, different in terms of flight length and departure time, whose prices range from 599,999 yuan to 1.39 million yuan.
"The prices are set by the Dutch firm and are the same around the world," the deputy manager said.
All of the services currently offered are suborbital spaceflight, which peaks at an altitude of 61 to 103 km.
Passengers who book the top two most-expensive trips will experience five to six minutes of weightlessness, a view of the star field and a vista of the curved Earth below.
"Many of our buyers have treated the space flight as an adventure and honour," Du said. Only 528 people have travelled in space, according to a report from taobao.com, a major online shopping service provider in China.
"We will also expand a similar service to more people by introducing service in spacecraft simulators," said Zhang Lingxiao, manager in charge of travel projects at taobao.com, adding that in two or three years, space tourism will be a larger market.
One expert has suggested that authorities supervise the industry to guarantee that the pricing is fair and tourists are safe.
"There has been no official regulation nor rules in space tourism in China, making the market chaotic, and more problems will be exposed in the future as more people book the trip," said Wang Yanyong, director of the Tourism Development and Planning Research Center of Beijing Jiaotong University.
Many agents have sold tickets to space, yet no trips have been completed, he said, suggesting that departments such as tourism bureaus release guidelines to regulate the industry.