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Beijing Olympics

As Olympics action beckon, Beijing hotels are still waiting for the deluge of guests

Yusof Sulaiman, eTN Asia/Pacific  Aug 04, 2008

As action for the competitors who have descended on Beijing looms by the day, Beijing hotels are asking the inevitable question: Where are the Olympic guests?

After looking forward to the Olympics hype for the past few years, and slashing prices in "a last ditch effort" to attract customers, Beijing hotels have not seen the high occupancy rush anticipated.

An industry report by the Beijing Tourism Bureau last month expressed concern over official figures showing 4-star hotels have an average occupancy rate of 44 percent, while 5-star hotels 77 percent. "That's worrying. There's not much time left," said Anthony Ha, general manager of Marriott Courtyard Beijing Northeast. "For an Olympics Games 90 percent is normal."

In addition, hotels situated further away from the Olympics action are offering breakfast vouchers and souvenirs to attract domestic travelers making last minute reservations.

"The quality of staff service has improved, and staff has become more service-oriented but that alone will not be enough to fill the empty rooms," said a hotel manager, lamenting on the slow custom. "No detail is considered too minor when it comes to making guests feel at home."

Hotel staff have been given extra training ahead of the Games by having "daily interactions" with overseas colleagues sent to Beijing to help them professionally. "We are now able to communicate effectively," Tong Qiang, a hotel employee, said.

Industry observers are putting the blame on the surge of new hotels built in anticipation of the Olympic "business" and the government's tightening of visa issued during the Olympics. Since Beijing was awarded the Olympics seven years ago, there are now an estimated 160 four to five star hotels, according to Beijing Tourism Bureau.

Hotels and tourism agencies are also blaming air pollution in Beijing and "officials who seems more intent on keeping foreigners out than welcome them."

Beijing Tourism Bureau official figures show the number of foreign visitors to Beijing dropped by 12.5 percent compared to a year ago, with Japanese visitors (45 percent) and Americans (17 percent) showing the biggest drop.

Journalists who have to endure bars closing early have dubbed the Beijing Olympics as the "Killjoy Games" or "All-China Games."

Unlike Barcelona, which hosted the Olympics in 1992 and Sydney in 2000, Beijing will find it difficult to charm foreigners, said March Sander, whose hotel will also host Olympic committee delegations. "We will see a big vacuum after the Olympics."

According to Si Cunxia from Travel China travel agency, hotels have overestimated their occupancy rates for July and August. "Tourists who would normally come to Beijing are not coming during the Olympics because transportation and accommodation costs are high," Cunxia told AP.

The average price for a 5-star hotel in Beijing ranges from US $500 to $1,150 and going up as high as $2,000 during the Olympics. "Large events like the Olympics usually drive up prices."

Security at Olympic sites, which has become the number one priority during the Beijing Games, has been extremely tight, according to Gino Tan, resident manager of Beijing Raffles Hotel, who will host the IOC executive board members.

Defending China's show of military force that includes ground-to air missiles at the Game venues, Zhang Huiguang, director of the Beijing Tourism Bureau said Beijingers will enthusiastically welcome foreign tourists. "But for terrorists and troublemakers, we'll unite and fight against them."

China has also mobilized a 100,000 strong anti-terrorism force, headed by its elite Snow Wolf Commando Unit.

The 17-day event is scheduled to open on August 8.

As Olympics action beckon, Beijing hotels are still waiting for the deluge of guests
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