When the curtain finally rises for the long-awaited start of the Beijing Olympic Games, it will provide China and its historic capital with an unprecedented platform to reach into homes across the world. Media from all over the planet have put their spotlights on China and are covering it from all different angles: history, culture, tourism, economics and the huge challenges the country has to overcome. No other event has such a global reach and saturation in terms of TV and internet coverage.
Top world tourist destination by 2020
Since opening up to the world two decades ago, China has seen a steady rise in the number of international visitors. In 2007, international arrivals increased by nearly 10%, according to the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). China is currently the world’s fourth most popular tourist destination, behind France, Spain and the USA. The United Nations agency forecasts that it will overtake them to become the top inbound destination by 2020 – and the Olympic Games are seen as a major factor in achieving that.
Tourism tipped to be China’s biggest Olympic beneficiary
Half a million international visitors are expected in Beijing during the Games, with a further 2.4 million domestic visitors from across China, evidence of the country’s fast-rising middle-class sector and its growing propensity to travel. UNWTO has been working with the China National Tourism Administration in the run-up to the Beijing Olympic Games, including running seminars and advising on various aspects. UNWTO Assistant Secretary-General Geoffrey Lipman is unequivocal about the event’s potential for China. “Tourism will really benefit from the Olympic Games; it is one of the biggest beneficiaries,” he said.
Olympic Games tourism benefits questioned
Not everyone subscribes to that view, however. European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) Executive Director Tom Jenkins said public perception about overcrowding and overpricing blighted host destinations. Countries also often had “unrealistic expectations” about tourist arrivals. UNWTO’s Lipman disagrees. He asserts that the advantages of hosting the Olympic Games go far beyond measuring initial visitor numbers. They include major infrastructure improvements which will bring benefits long after the Games, such as the new terminal at Beijing’s Capital International Airport and Qingdao’s world-class sailing facilities, and improvements in service training and standards. “You don’t measure the impact of something like this in terms of what it is going to do for tourism this year,” said Lipman. “China will have such a fantastic resource for the future.”