Long before the 2004 Athens Olympics even began, the 2008
Beijing Olympic Committee was well into planning and even
constructing some sites for the 2008 Games. Construction of four
major venues had begun, public bidding for two more venues was
underway and some banking and automobile partners had already been
Today, by all accounts, work on the 2008 Beijing Olympics is
well ahead of schedule, and China is unlikely to repeat the
cliff-hanging finish that marked completion of the Athens
facilities last summer.
“They were still painting signs in Athens the day before the
Games began,” said one veteran observer. “The Chinese aren’t going
to be caught doing that. This is their international coming-out
party, and they are going to get it right.”
Indeed, with a total estimated budget of $1.6 billion, the 2008
Olympics ranks only second to the construction of the Three Gorges
Dam as the largest public works program in Chinese history. In
addition, the national government has reportedly kicked in $21
billion for 142 Olympic-related improvement projects, including
extending urban transportation, improving air quality, creating new
parks and restoring historic landmarks.
But the private sector is also heavily involved. A lucrative
marketing plan includes licensing, sponsorship and partnership
programs, with companies being authorized to produce and sell
products with the official Olympic emblem. NBC will pay $800
million to broadcast the Games worldwide.
In May, Beijing’s organizers sponsored a commercial fair for
major sporting goods companies that want to be represented at the
XXIX Olympiad. A similar event last year resulted in the signing of
10 deals worth a total of $2.5 billion. And that’s just the tip of
the iceberg that includes major partnerships with Coca-Cola,
Volkswagen, Kodak, Samsung, Panasonic and Visa, among others.
Hotels in Beijing are also gearing up for the expected influx of
800,000 people in 2008. There are currently an estimated 89,980
star hotel rooms available in Beijing. That number will increase to
130,000 by the time of the Olympics, with some properties now
undergoing major renovation.
Shangri-la Hotel Beijing, for example, will build another
Horizon Tower which will increase room capacity by 140. And the
Hilton in Beijing is currently undergoing a $15 million renovation
that will also add more rooms. Marriott, looking at the long term,
will open the luxury Executive Apartments Palm Springs with 224
one-, two- and three-bedroom units.
Although it is difficult to estimate room rates three years in
the future, it is estimated that a double room in a three-star
hotel will run $80-$110 per night, and a five-star from $200-490.
Some tour operators are already taking reservations and offering
New construction is not limited just to hotels, however. The
People’s Republic of China (PRC) has begun a massive reconstruction
of Beijing’s infrastructure, with money going toward reducing air
and water pollution; expanding highways, especially the “ring
roads” that encircle the city; and building more high-speed light
rail and subway lines. One subway line will go directly to the
Olympic Park from Tiananmen Square.
In an effort to curb air pollution, taxis and buses will switch
over to natural gas, and pollution-spewing factories now located
within city limits will be moved to outlying areas. Smoking may be
banned altogether at Olympic venues.
One element that the government can’t control is the sand storms
that blow up off the desert during the hot summer months (the
Olympics will be held from July 25 to Aug. 10). That problem will
be addressed by planting tens of thousands of trees on Beijing’s
outskirts in an effort to deflect the storms.
The Olympic venues are being built to the north of the city,
along the north-south axis that divides Beijing according to the
Confucian tradition. All but two of the 28 Olympic events will be
held at the new Olympic Park. The exceptions: sailing and soccer,
which will take place in Qingdao and Tianjin respectively.
The human element has not been overlooked in all the planning
either. Beijing has launched a three-year campaign to improve its
residents’ etiquette in preparation for dealing with the onslaught
of foreigners, many of whom will not speak Chinese. The campaign
will target taxi drivers, among others.
And the run-up to the 2008 Olympics is likely to spawn a whole
new breed of entrepreneur eager to cash in on the commercial
bonanza. One man has even announced plans to demonstrate how to
make Chinese chopsticks and then sell them on the spot.
“Demonstrating my skills will promote Chinese dietary culture,” he
said, “and besides, chopsticks make money, so I can kill two birds
with one stone.”
China may never be the same after 2008.
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