Rooms Go Begging as Olympics Loom

BEIJING ~ Rooms are going begging one month out from the Beijing Olympics with hotels reporting lower-than-expected advance bookings and crossing their fingers for a late influx of tourists.

After being warned that an accommodation crunch was likely during the Games, Beijing went on a hotel building binge after winning the right to host the Games in 2001 – and now the opposite appears to be in prospect.

With few exceptions – notably some niche hotels in Beijing’s old quarter – hotels are in fierce competition to attract Olympic customers.

So far the luxury sector has come off best with top hotels achieving 75 percent booking rates while four star hotels are less than half full and bookings for three-star hotel rooms are running at 30 percent, according to the Beijing Tourism Bureau.

Only 10 percent of rooms in the more modest tourist hotels are booked, it said.

The boutique hotels that have recently begun to emerge in what is left of Beijing’s old city seem to be acquitting themselves well in the intense pre-Olympic struggle for customers.

They offer traditional courtyard accommodation in old Hutong, the lanes that once connected up the fabric of old Beijing.

Hotel proprietors were expecting to make a killing during the Olympics and room charges have more than quadrupled in the run-up.

Home owners were also hoping to cash in on Olympic fever with some deciding to offer their apartments for rent to visitors at a significant premium.

Three-bedroom apartments that normally rent for around 6,000 yuan (US$880) are on offer for 1500 yuan a day during the August 8-24 Games.

“We were told there would be a lack of beds so property owners got rid of tenants and upped the rent for the Games period. Or if they were living in the apartment themselves, they decided to move out so they could rent the space,” said Song Zhi, who helps run the accommodation service

Song offers apartments for all budgets including premier locations near the main Olympic venues. “But at least for now, supply exceeds demand,” he said.

The head of the Beijing Tourism Administration, Zhang Huiguang, said that Beijing has 336,000 hotel rooms with 660,000 beds.

Administration officials say that the Games are expected to attract between 450,000 and 500,000 overseas visitors, in addition to 1.2 to 1.6 million Chinese visitors from outside the capital.

However, expectations concerning the number of overseas tourists could prove optimistic.

Some travellers may already have been put off by early reports of huge tourist numbers expected to flood an already congested city. Others may have been discouraged by diplomatic tension between China and the outside world earlier this year over issues including its handling of the unrest in Tibet.

In addition, reports about heavy handed Olympic security measures and a tougher policy on giving visas to overseas applicants may have further discouraged potential tourists.

Evidence that tourism has been falling off was clearly visible in May this year at some of China’s top tourists sites. Parking lots normally impossible to find a space in were half empty at Mutianyu, one of the top sites at the Great Wall just outside Beijing.

Faced with falling bookings, European airlines Air France and British Airways have been running special promotions to attract tourists to their China routes, while the French firm has also been forced to suspend several weekly flights.

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