China's online travel market is dominated by two local firms, Ctrip and eLong. Ctrip attracted approximately 2.3 million travellers in the third quarter, roughly twice as many as eLong, according to data supplied by analysts.

A government-mandated changeover to paperless ticketing is expected to give a tremendous boost to China's online travel industry.

But while officials believe that it will save the industry and passengers US$3bn per year, the move has actually hurt sales and profits at online agencies in the short term.

The China Air Transport Association stopped providing paper flight tickets in mid-October, but many passengers, airports and airlines were unprepared for the move.

"Many airports and airlines are unable to print the new one-page receipts for e-tickets that travellers use to get a refund from their companies," said Deutsche Bank analyst William Bao Bean in a note to investment banking clients.

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