Business of the Beijing Olympics

Travelers Face Narrowing Options For Olympic Games

Kenneth Stier,|Features Writer

If you're thinking about visiting the Olympic Games this August in China, you better start trying to book a rapidly vanishing discount airline seat and—to a lesser extent—a hotel room.

Finding a Western-standard hotel room—at various price points—should be easier, thanks to a dramatic expansion by major chains in anticipation of the 29th Olympics Games (August 8-24) and strong future demand for visitors to China.

“I can’t believe that people suddenly wake up in May and decide that they are going to go to the Olympics in August and get tickets—there is a fair amount of last minute [hotel] demand,” says Geoff Garside, Asia-Pacific executive vice president for Marriott International .

Airlines—Creative Travel

“Right now—for early August until the 24th—it is very difficult to find a low-fare ticket; you can still get a seat if you don’t mind the prices,” say Larry Ge, sales manager for, a Chinese-owned travel agency based in Boca Raton, Florida since 1998.

Airplane Takeoff

Full fare tickets run around $3,000, about twice the cost of off-peak discounted tickets. If you are flexible on dates, it’s still possible to find tickets for about $2,000, says Ge.

Bookings at UAL'sUnited Airlines, the largest US carrier serving China and an official Olympics sponsor, are “very full and have been for months,” says Dennis Cary, senior vice president of marketing. 

The story is similar at the other US airlines with direct flights to China—(Northwest, Delta, Continental, and  AMR's American also fly direct.

Travelers need to “get creative,” says Cary, to work around “insufficient capacity” caused by bilateral aviation restrictions.

There are 18 daily direct flights between the US and China—11 by five US carriers and seven by four different Chinese airlines.

Fortunately, Asian carriers have extensive routes via key regional hubs. 

Japan Airlines, for instance, has four daily flights to Tokyo, while Air Nippon offers five daily options from five different US cities.

Korean Airlines has six daily flights to its base in Seoul, while Asiana offers four daily flights. Hong Kong-based Cathy Pacific Airlines has eight daily flights to its home base from three US cities. Southeast Asian airlines offer other options. All have connections to the three Chinese cities served by international carriers.

Travelers are advised to make sure they get their entry visas (remember this is still a country run by a control-obsessed Communist Party) in their home countries, as it may not be possible to pick them up in another city. 

There are 18 daily direct flights between the US and China—11 by five US carriers and seven by four different Chinese airlines.

Hotels Sprouting in China

Most hotels report strong bookings but also a surprising amount of last minute demand.

Marriott's Garside says hotels should still be able to accommodate late-comers because of just-in-time openings of new properties.

Marriott is scrambling to open four new hotels by early July. That depends on some 3,000 transient workers wrapping up finishing touches, though there are rumors in Beijing that the workers will be sent back to their hinterland homes so that they aren't visible to Olympic visitors.

So far that’s not happened, however, and Garside is “fairly confident” the hotels can open in time for a month of staff training.

UK-based Intercontinental Hotels is in a similar race to open five new hotels, including a 438-room property in the coastal city of Qingdao, where aquatic events take place.

Besides the Olympics boon, hotels are counting on strong sustained demand for years afterwards. For many firms China is already an important—and fastest growing—market. 

Marriott currently has 32 properties in China, which accounts for 45 percent of Asia-Pacific revenue—although this region provides just eight percent of global earnings.

Another 25 properties are to open by 2011 and the pipeline is continually being replenished. 

China’s dramatic hotel build-out has raised concerns of a post-Olympic slump. Marriott, for one, is already planning on offering incentive packages to entice visitors. “We will be very flexible on rates and packages,” Garside says.