Visitors to Beijing Olympics put off by higher costs and tighter security


Tight security restrictions and higher prices are damaging domestic demand for Beijing Olympic package tours and reducing the number of overseas visitors, travel agencies and hotels have warned.

The Chinese government has made security a top priority for the games, but some of its stringent measures are deterring people from coming to the capital. A clampdown on visas has reduced the number of international business travellers, while tour companies reported that Chinese people have been put off by the toughened security checks and the increased costs.

“Fewer people are going to Beijing because the ticket prices are too expensive, and there are too many strict rules to get into the city,” said an employee at the China Travel Agency in Chongqing.

Hospitality industry insiders privately report that several large hotels are running at 50 to 70% occupancy, while some smaller places are struggling to book more than 50% of their rooms.

Even the state newspaper, Shanghai Daily, reported that the appetite for Olympics trips was considerably lower than expected.

Zhang Lei, a spokesman with the Shanghai-based Spring International Travel Service Ltd, told the paper that its special packages had received “a slack response”, with only 1,000 customers taking up offers – around half the number expected.

Yin Jun, manager of the Jiangsu provincial branch of China Travel Service Ltd, blamed the soaring prices of accommodation and tourist buses, saying the cost of packages had tripled to above 6,000 yuan (£440).

Officials have forecast that around half a million foreign visitors, and an even greater number of domestic travellers, will come to the city for the games.

An official at the Beijing tourism bureau declined to comment yesterday when asked if tourist numbers were lower than expected.

“The government will not talk about anything negative,” said the man, who gave his name only as Mr Song.

“If the matter was something positive, then maybe we could talk about it more.”

At the higher end, many four and five-star hotels are booked out for the games, but they say privately that reservations are lower than usual in the run-up to the games.

A staff member at the Hilton Beijing said it would be full next month because it was hosting six countries’ national organising committees. But she added: “There have been fewer guests in the period before the Olympics.”

A few domestic travel agencies said they thought demand for travel to Beijing had picked up slightly, partly because tourists were deterred from visiting Sichuan after the earthquake.

Shanghai’s hospitality industry also appears to be suffering from the knock-on effects of the games, with many business people unable to gain entry to China.

“We haven’t got a lot of people coming into town because visas are harder to get,” said Paul French, chief China analyst at the Shanghai-based research firm Access Asia.

“Places that cater to foreigners are really feeling the pinch. Airlines have also been hurt because they thought flights to Beijing would be so booked up that there would be overspill.

“The long-term effect is that people can’t do deals.”

Under security measures introduced in the last few weeks, bus passengers to all cities hosting Olympic events must show identity cards as well as tickets, subway luggage is checked, and bars and other entertainment venues have had increased visits from police checking for drug dealing and prostitution.

Tightened security appears to have spread to Shanghai, where staff at all public swimming pools must now check customers’ shampoos, shower gel and other liquids in case of a terrorist attack.

Mr Wang, an official at the city’s Social Sports Administrative Centre, told the Guardian: “It’s because of the Olympics, for security reasons. You have these sorts of checks if you are flying somewhere.”