China Olympic Legacy for Tourism

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When a national government spends more than $40 billion on a single event and mobilizes an entire country's energies for the sake of 2 weeks of sports, it is bound to raise many questions on the effects this will have for the future. Roy Graff, Managing Director of ChinaContact addresses these questions and analyses the legacy implications of the Olympics on tourism to and from China ahead of the WTM-ChinaContact forum in November in London.

When a national government spends more than $40 billion on a single event, and mobilizes an entire country's energies for the sake of 2 weeks of sports, it is bound to raise many questions on the effects this will have for the future. Are Chinese feeling more cosmopolitan now than before and will this impact on how they travel? Have they more confidence to travel abroad, knowing how well their country's athletes performed on the international stage? Did the Olympics stimulate more demand for sports themed tours and holidays both at home and abroad? Does the rest of the world have a better understanding of China now and is more likely to visit? Will the Olympic Village become the latest white elephant or find a sustainable use?

These issues and more will be addressed in keynote speeches and panel discussions at 'China - the Future of Travel', the WTM-ChinaContact forum on November 12, 2008 in World Travel Market, Excel, London. Experts including tourism officials, academics and private sector professionals with long experience in China will look at the events of the past year and their effects on tourism to and from China in the short and long term.

The international media seem to admire China's logistical performance in staging the Games, while criticizing some of the measures that were taken to ensure a smooth run. These measures include clearing the city of potential troublemakers (minorities mostly), taking half the cars off the road, not allowing any protests, and generally going overboard with security. This can seem excessive, but terrorism is a real threat these days and many of these precautions are sadly needed. London is even more of a target and will have to grapple with getting the balance right between security and warm welcome.

After the competitions we can look back at a successful and memorable Olympics for the sporting accomplishments and the management of the event. But what about the tourism benefits that the Olympics are supposed to bring to the host? Arguably China can most benefit from hosting the Games in the area of inbound tourism. Author Roy Graff believes that in this aspect, China missed the opportunity since the experience of visitors to the Olympics contained very little of China's rich culture and tourism treasures. While it is certain everyone who visited Beijing went to see the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, and maybe watched a Chinese acrobatics show, China's vast wealth of tourist destinations and diverse culture was not on display. The food inside the Olympic venues was truly awful, even as China boasts one of the most rich culinary traditions in the world. This was a sanitized, efficient operation that lacked a sense of fun and discovery.

Many more people around the world watched the coverage of the Olympics and saw a different side to China that could induce them to consider it as a destination in future if sufficient marketing efforts follow. Let's look more closely at the opportunities for tourism promotion China did not seize:

  •     Food: China's 23 provinces each comes with its own culture and culinary tradition. Beijing normally provides for all of these traditions with outlets from high-end restaurants to open market stalls. During the Olympics, open-air food markets were closed for hygiene reasons. Most spectators on package tours ate western food for the majority of the time. The catering at Olympic venues was dismal.
  •     Travel: The heavy security measures at airports and transport terminals made touring around the country difficult and less pleasant. Visa application prior to the Olympics was made harder and put off prospective tourists not heading to the Olympics. As a result Beijing and China received less tourists this summer than in the previous year and many travel companies are suffering losses.
  •     Culture: China often makes a case for its diversity pointing to its many ethnic minority groups and their distinct culture and heritage. But during the Olympics there was a focus on uniformity and unity. Needless to say that this was probably a decision made based on the dissent shown in Tibet earlier in the year but it was a shame for the world not to see the rich diversity of people in China.

When it comes to outbound tourism from China, it is possible that the Chinese have gained confidence from watching their country top the gold medal tables and host such a large scale event. Many countries that took part in the Olympics used the opportunity to promote their tourism resources through trade receptions and media campaigns linked to the Games. London, for example, associated its tourism marketing strategy closely with the London 2012 Olympics.

Post-Olympics, it is likely the government will announce further relaxation of the tourism sector and allow more foreign companies licenses to operate in China. There will also be a spate of mergers and acquisitions due to the global economy slow down and large losses to travel related companies in China in the wake of the Olympics. But the growth of tourism is likely to continue, and will be faster in China than anywhere else, on track to meet UN-WTO targets for largest tourism destination by 2015 and largest source market by 2020.

About the writer:
Roy Graff is Managing Director of ChinaContact and a fluent Chinese speaker who has lived in China and the UK working in tourism business development, marketing and distribution. He is the director of the WTM-ChinaContact forum at World Travel Market, 12 November 2008 in Excel, London and consults destination tourism boards, hotel groups and travel companies on access to the Chinese market. ChinaContact offer Western organizations tourism and hospitality representation services in China incorporating marketing, PR and sales and offer Chinese tourism destination assistance with international marketing.
Roy co-wrote the China Outbound Travel Handbook, now updated for 2008 and available in a free downloadable PDF format from the ChinaContact Tourism Network.

For further information
China - the Future of Travel


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