“The main problem is that government has thrown so many people out of the city, foreigners and Chinese alike, and it’s so quiet. Hotels are feeling the pain,” says Gilbert van Kerckhove, a business consultant in Beijing who has advised the Games organizers.
Though security appeared to drive much of China’s attitude to foreigners at the Games, some observers wonder about the purpose behind the policy. “They made it hard to get tickets and hard to get visas. The impression they gave was that they didn’t want foreigners to come,” says one foreign Olympics consultant.
Operating from a converted hotel outside the Olympic Green, the Beijing International Media Center was designed for 10,000 foreign journalists not accredited by their national Olympic committees. In fact, only 3,000 registered there, a BIMC official says.
On a recent visit, most using the facilities and attending briefings were Chinese news crews. The center was also crowded with 800 volunteers ready to help but with little more to do than watch the Games on TV.
Beijing tourism officials said that before the Olympics they expected as many as 500,000 foreign tourists to come during the Games, including arrivals from Hong Kong and Macau, as well as self-ruled Taiwan. That would have been up from the capital’s 420,000 visitors last August but now seems an unreachable target. Arrivals in June and July this year were significantly lower than 2007 figures.
Tourism officials, who have declined to issue data until after the Games, are putting on a brave face. Last week, Wang Zhifa, deputy head of China’s National Tourism Administration told a press conference here that nearly one-fifth of hotel rooms in Beijing were empty, but predicted tourism would pick up after the athletes go home.