A Club Med in China?

In another move to welcome tourists -- one that Chairman Mao surely would never have dreamed of -- the People's Republic of China has opened its doors to the carefree Club Med.

Construction of the 280-bed hotel-village at Sui Mui Sha beach in Shenzhen began last March, although Club Med just recently announced the agreement with the People's Republic. Completion of the $7.5 million resort is scheduled for Christmas 1985; it is designed to attract vacationers from Japan, Southeast Asia and North America.

Shenzhen -- less than 10 miles from Hong Kong, an hour's ride by ferry or train -- is one of three areas established four years ago by China for economic and technological development to attract foreign investors. The Shenzhen resort site overlooks a broad beach and will feature a golf course and a man-made lake. Activities will include sailing, windsurfing, tennis, squash, archery and workshops in arts, crafts, language and computers.

The agreement was signed by the Shenzhen Development Corp., the Bank of China, Club Med and Trilease International Ltd. Club Med will begin a 10-year management contract, with option for renewal, when the resort opens. Club Med has also been selected by the government to set up a staff training program at the Sui Mui Sha Hotel for China's growing hotel industry.

"It has been our dream to have a village in this exciting country," said Serge Trigano, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Club Med Inc. Conceived in Europe in 1950 as a modestly priced way for vacationers to spend an informal week in the sun -- most often near a beach -- the club now has 100 villages in 26 countries with additional openings planned. During the 1982-83 season, it hosted more than 1.15 million guests from 40 countries.

But Club Med won't be the first unusual tourism development in Shenzhen. Last July China's first amusement park opened as part of the Shenzhen Bay Resort complex, featuring a roller coaster, monorail, jet boat, bumper cars, a merry-go-round and other Japanese-designed and imported rides, plus horseback riding and a discothe que. The resort's 342-room hotel is scheduled to open this month. The property is managed by New World Hotels International Ltd., a Hong Kong-based operator of deluxe hotels in Asia.

AIR-TO-GROUND PHONE: Since last Monday, passengers aboard wide-bodied and long-haul jets of American, United, TWA, Northwest Orient, Delta and Republic airlines have been able to make in-flight telephone calls anywhere in the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii. Called Airfone, this is the first air-to-ground phone service for the commercial airline passenger.

Cost for the first three minutes or fraction, regardless of geographic area called, is $7.50, and $1.25 for each additional minute or fraction. The same charges are made when dialing 800 (usually toll-free) numbers, but directory assistance to locate phone numbers is provided without charge. Voice quality is described as comparable to long-distance calls placed on the ground.

Airfone Inc. of Oak Brook, Ill., a joint venture between Western Union Corp. and Goeken Communications, has been preparing the system for more than six years. There are three stages, with additional developments expected. Phase I was designed to prove the technical feasibility to the FCC, and the research included testing equipment both in private aircraft and at ground stations. In the current Phase II, under an experimental FCC license, Airfone will monitor and evaluate the new operation while determining public demand. (Contracts have also been signed with Air One, Eastern and Pan American, whose planes will offer Airfone service later.) After final FCC approval, the service would be extended in Phase III to smaller aircraft flying short and medium-distance routes.

Air travelers will find the system "a welcome solution to the age-old problem of being out of touch with home and office," according to Robert M. Flanagan, chairman of the board of Western Union Corp. Here's how it works:

Four handset units are mounted in each airplane cabin at a location selected by the individual line. The cordless portable phones do not interfere with the plane's radio equipment when they transmit their low-power signals to Airfone's central Airborne Control Unit (ACU), located in the aircraft's center equipment bay.

A passenger who wants to make a call inserts one of seven major credit cards in one of the wall-mounted units. (Cards currently acceptable are Citicorp Diners Club, Air Travel Card, American Express, Carte Blanche, MasterCard, Visa and the Western Union Long Distance Card.) The card's magnetic strip is read and transmitted to the ACU, which checks validation with its memory bank and simultaneously tests the radio link with the handset. Then the handset is released from its base, and the passenger can dial from anywhere in the plane, including from a seat. (Only two passengers can place calls at one time, however.)

There are ground receiver stations at intervals across the country; the ACU selects the one closest to the plane's location when a call is made and transmits billing information to it.

Later, the Central Computer Center, a collection point in Oak Brook where all billing information is received, processes the individual charges.

If the quality of the radio transmission is impaired by adverse weather conditions or abnormal terrain changes, the passenger can notify the Airfone operator by dialing 0.

TRAVEL NOTES: California was the most popular destination for overseas visitors (32 percent of them) in 1983, with New York City (30 percent) a close second and Florida (28 percent) right behind, according to an in-flight survey by the U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration . . . Amtrak will begin new service next Sunday linking Richmond with Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and other cities on the railroad's Northeast Corridor. The Virginian can be boarded by Washington area passengers at Alexandria, Union Station or New Carrollton (schedule information available from Amtrak). Last Monday Amtrak increased the frequency of its AutoTrain service between Lorton, Va., and Sanford, Fla., from triweekly to daily. It is also now offering savings of more than 35 percent on that train's northbound fares through Jan. 15 (except from Dec. 14 through Jan. 2 (Amtrak explains that it's "off-season" for travel north from Florida, but it expects brisk business in the other direction) . . . The Fund for the Borough of Brooklyn (16 Court St., Room 809, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11241) will mail a colorful, informative map of the borough featuring 10 walking/driving neighborhood tours, for $1 postpaid.

GENEALOGICAL UPDATE: The Historic Emigration Office (HEO) in Hamburg (mentioned in the Aug. 5 Fearless Traveler column) is not the only place to find collected German emigrant records from 1850 to 1914. The Manuscript Reading Room in the Madison Building of the Library of Congress has microfilms of many of those files, and they are available to the public. In addition, the genealogical office of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, in Salt Lake City, has 486 microfilms of Hamburg ship passenger lists and indexes, also available to the public at no charge.