High Prices, Negative News Keeps Tourists away from Olymics: Official

Beijing National StadiumBEIJING ~ High hotel prices and a spate of negative news about China may be scaring away Olympic visitors, the city’s top tourism official said on Wednesday.

More than half the rooms in the city’s four, three and two-star hotels remain free with just 72 days to go until the Games, Beijing Tourism Administration director general Zhang Huiguang told a press conference.

This year China has been buffeted by massive winter storms, protests against Chinese rule in Tibet as well as overseas protests against the Beijing Olympic torch relay.

Then came the massive May 12 earthquake in southwestern China that killed more than 68,000 people and flattened entire towns and villages across an area the size of South Korea.

In addition, the United States and Britain both issued travel alerts in April warning of an increased terrorist threat in China, while Interpol spoke of a possible Al Qaeda attack at the Olympics.

“So many things have happened this year,” said Zhang.

“The tourists maybe don’t have a proper understanding of the matters, including the earthquake and other things that they may be concerned about,” she said.

“But they should not worry; we have taken strong measures to ensure safety and security.”

Zhang said Beijing’s hotel prices had more than tripled in the run-up to the Games.

But room rates compared well with other countries and were lower than those charged during the 2004 Olympics Games in Athens, she said.

The average price for a five-star hotel here during the Games would be 3,623 yuan (about US$520), she said, while a four-star hotel room went for an average 2,226 yuan.

“On the whole, prices are reasonable compared to previous Olympics,” said Zhang.

She also said travellers may have been put off by tougher visa applications procedures adopted since China launched a crackdown against protests in Tibet in March.

Tourists must now provide evidence of where they will stay in China, a travel itinerary and other documents.

“All Olympic host cities strengthen security during the Olympic Games and Beijing has done the same,” said Zhang.

“As long as the guests comply with these arrangements … it should all go very smoothly.”

She said Beijing was expecting 450,000 to 500,000 foreign visitors during the Games, with an additional one million Chinese tourists flocking to the capital.

Last year around 420,000 tourists came to the capital during August, up from 350,000 in 2006.

Over the past two years, Beijing has been feverishly building hotels to meet the anticipated demand, boosting the number of star-rated hotels by around 100, the tourism administration said.

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