Olympic Hopeful

Beijing prepares for 2008

By: Jim Calio

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 signed up.

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 packages.

Planning Ahead

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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