Some Beijing hotels have cut their room rates by 10 to 20 per cent in a last-ditch effort to attract tourists before the August 8-24 Olympic games, the state-run China Daily reported yesterday. Citing statistics from Ctrip.com, based in Shanghai, which is the country's largest online hotel booking service, China Daily said that rates in a typical four-star hotel had been reduced from 1,500 Chinese yuan (Dh807) in May and June to 800 yuan per night during the Games. Three-star hotels had dropped rates from an average of 700 yuan to 400 yuan. "The reasons could be multiple and the price cut during the Olympics is now a trend," Wu Jiaoli, a press officer with Ctrip, was quoted as saying.
"One reason is that the occupancy rate is less than expected; another is to undercut competitors at the last moment," Mr Wu added. The price reductions follow a statement by the Beijing Tourism Bureau last month that occupancy rates were as low as 44 per cent for four-star hotels, and that almost a quarter of the city's five-star rooms were still available. During the Athens, Sydney and Atlanta Olympics, occupancy was about 90 per cent.
Beijing's hotel sector has mushroomed in preparation for the Games and the city now has 5,892 hotels, of which 160 are four- and five-star. Fifty-seven hotels have opened in the past year alone. Official statistics had predicted that more than one million domestic tourists and between 450,000 and 500,000 foreigners would attend the Games. This is not much more than the 420,000 foreigners who visited Beijing last summer, traditionally a low season due to the heat. Xinhua, the official news agency, said that visitor numbers had dropped by 14.2 per cent in May, attributing the reduction to tighter visa regulations introduced by the government in the spring.
According to China Daily, Olympics visitors will include about 50,200 athletes, international Games staff, journalists, sponsors and their business clients, all of whom will be accommodated by 112 hotels, ranging from three-star upwards and designated by the Beijing organising committee as official hotels. The committee reserved about 70 per cent of the rooms in these hotels at rates set by official organisations, ranging from US$180 (Dh610) to $350 per night, about 1.4 to 1.8 times higher than the usual rates.
Officials said that hotels could charge what the market could bear for unallocated rooms. Last summer Du Jiang, the director of Beijing Tourism Administration, said that it would intervene only in "extreme" cases, such as when "a foreign visitor was being asked to pay $10,000 for a room, despite a hotel having plenty of vacancies", according to Reuters. Hotel rates had increased dramatically for advance bookings for the Games, with the average rate being asked for four-star hotels during the Olympics reaching $320 earlier this year, three times last summer's average. In Sydney and Atlanta, hotel rates during the Olympic year peaked at 15 to 20 per cent above the previous year.
Last week Reuters reported that Beijing officials were downplaying worries about low reservations, insisting that the numbers were in line with expectations and refusing to draw a link with new visa controls. It quoted Xiong Yumei, the deputy head of the Beijing Tourism Administration, as saying that more than half the rooms in four-star hotels in Beijing over the Olympic period were still available, although bookings were edging up slowly.
"This is what we expected," she said. "There are still quite a lot of people from other cities and provinces who have tickets but have not yet booked rooms. When August comes the occupancy rate will be much higher than the present booking rate." Reservations have been concentrated in the Olympic Village, Asian Games Village and hotels near the Olympic stadiums, China Daily said, citing Ctrip information. Hotels located further from the Olympic stadiums have also begun providing packages in a bid to attract customers, including offers of breakfast vouchers and souvenirs.
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