Travel & Tourism

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 October, 2008, 12:00am

Hoteliers bank on success of Beijing Olympics to boost tourist numbers following slump in August

While tourist numbers during the Beijing Olympics weren't as rosy as predicted, the Games should raise the profile of the city as a destination, or at least that's what hoteliers are banking on. Visits by international tourists dropped by 7.2 per cent during August year-on-year, according to the city's tourism administration, and domestic visitors were down a staggering 41.7 per cent. The question now is if tourists will come now that the ruckus and red tape are part of the past.

'Definitely the Olympic Games has put Beijing, even the whole country, under the world spotlight,' said Judy Wang, public relations director in China at Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts. Because Shangri-La was an official Olympic hotel, 70 per cent of its rooms were occupied by guests of the Beijing Olympic Committee, with the remaining rooms taken up by individual guests. Its four hotels in Beijing ran at full occupancy for 10 days during August, with high occupancy rates throughout the rest of the month.

'Traditionally, August is our shoulder season so this August we ran at higher occupancy than the same month last year,' Ms Wang said. 'After the Olympics, the business from corporate and leisure travel, and MICE [meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions] will improve and most likely exceed the norm. We are confident that international travel business will return to previous levels and continue to grow.' One of the most positive side effects the Olympics have had is to introduce the country to the wider world, and that means more tourists are bound to come, according to Zhong Liang, head of China wealth management research at UBS Securities.

'The Olympics have provided the world with the best way to get to know Beijing and China,' Mr Zhong said. 'This will in turn attract more tourists to China. Restaurants, hotels, airlines and other tourism-related industries should directly benefit in the coming years.'

Infrastructure improvements in Beijing should attract business and leisure travellers. Mr Zhong pointed to the new Terminal 3 at Beijing Capital Airport and the airport express underground rail line as examples. Future improvements, such as wireless coverage throughout central Beijing and an upgraded telecom system, would 'ameliorate the business environment' in Beijing, Mr Zhong said.

Another impact the Olympics have had on Beijing, according to Mr Zhong, is in breaking down language barriers. 'Language has often been a stumbling block for many foreigners who want to visit or do business in China,' he said. 'English is now becoming an integral part of the business environment and a second language for people in Beijing and Shanghai. Now, even taxi drivers and housewives can speak English.'