China Eyes 2008 Games

Although the Athens Olympics are less than a year away, many travel professionals are already ramping up for the 2008 Games in Beijing.

By: Kevin Brass

Although the Athens Olympics are less than a year away, many travel professionals are already ramping up for the 2008 Games in Beijing.

“We plan for it to be a major part of what we do here for the next few years,” said Gilbert Whelan, director of marketing for China Travel Service U.S.A. in San Francisco.

By all accounts, China is using the Olympics as catalyst to transform its tourism infrastructure.

As many as 50 new hotels are expected to open in Beijing by 2008. More than 800 hotels in Beijing are scheduled for upgrading in order to qualify for Olympic certification.

In an attempt to ease Beijing’s notorious traffic congestion, a fourth ring road has already opened around the city. A subway line connecting Olympic sites to tourist areas is scheduled for completion by 2006, and an additional five light-rail routes should be ready by 2008.

While the Olympics are traditionally an important economic and cultural event for the host company, few have had as much at stake as China, which views the game as something of a “coming-out party” to the world community.

As part of the Olympic effort, more than 2 million trees were planted in Beijing last year.

“It is an issue of national pride, representing this country’s rite of passage into global acceptance and recognition,” said Guy Rubin, managing partner of Imperial Tours, based in Carson City, Nev.

Rubin says the Olympics will transform the luxury hotel market, his primary target.

A new Park Hyatt is reportedly set to open in Beijing in 2006, while rumors persist that Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons will either manage or own new facilities, he said.

“It is counter-intuitive to suppose that a Communist country could offer better luxury facilities than many capitalist countries, but this is part of a 30-year-long historic process,” Rubin said.

Although hotels are not yet taking reservations for the Olympics, they are starting waiting lists, Rubin said.

More so than past Games, the Beijing Olympics are expected to impact China long before the events actually begin. The government has decreed that all major Olympic projects be completed by 2006. Travel executives say the Games are already affecting business. They say the decision to award the games to China helped change many of the perceptions of the country, from the availability of facilities to security issues.

“It’s easier for us to advertise and promote China travel,” said Chris Lee, owner of China Plus Travel, a tour operator based in Irving, Texas. “It also makes it easier for us to provide better service.”

In September the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee announced its initial marketing plan, including details for sponsorships and exclusive supplier rights, a key step in organizing the business side of the event.

The process of selling sponsorships has already started, and the awarding of supplier deals is expected to begin soon after the Athens games.

In September, the Olympic organizing committee also launched a new annual cultural event in Beijing, the Olympic Cultural Festival, spotlighting Olympic-oriented activities and the history of China.

The festival will offer a variety of events each September through 2008.

With the Olympics as a key economic driver, China tourism is expected to boom in the next few years.

Boeing recently predicted the country will need more than 2,000 new passenger planes to handle both the internal and external flow of tourists.

“If Beijing builds new rooms they will be used,” said Whelan of China Travel Service. “The Chinese government has seen the impact tourism can have on China and the Chinese people.”