Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on August 1, 2008
Given how hard the Chinese government is making it for people to get visas, maybe the answer is no, Beijing isn’t all that concerned about attracting lots of foreign visitors. Bad news for all those hotels that have opened in the city or all the airlines hoping to get a lift from Olympics visitors. As Bloomberg reported last week, Beijing hotels are slashing their rates in a somewhat desperate attempt to boost their occupancy rates. Even the state-controlled media is reporting that hotels are struggling. The Shanghai Daily (subscription required) recently ran a story with the headline “Hotels slash room rates as foreign visitors fail to turn up.”)
At The New Republic’s blog, Princeton professor and China expert Perry Link writes that a disappointingly low foreign response to the games might trouble ordinary Chinese people but not the Chinese government: “There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that the Chinese people, overwhelmingly, want foreigners to come and get a good impression of their country. But the Chinese people are not running this Olympics show. The top leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are in charge, and the priorities of this particular group are hardly identical to those of the broad populace. The first priority of the top leaders is not to impress foreigners but to impress the Chinese people that they, the CCP, are the champions and vanguard of China’s new nationalism. This point is crucial to their power….The CCP leaders today are less interested in impressing the outside world than in showing the Chinese people how much the outside world is impressed with CCP-led China. For that, they don’t need potentially obstreperous tourists…”
The government does run the risk of this strategy backfiring; although the Chinese government may not be terribly interested in impressing foreigners, many Chinese people are. Most Chinese people are justifiably proud of what they have accomplished and want to show off those achievements to foreigners. So I expect we’ll be seeing stories in the Chinese press soon with accounts of foreign visitors admiring the new airport and new subway lines as well as the beautiful Bird’s Nest and other Olympic venues - regardless of what the tourist arrival numbers are.
* Re-posted on August 4 to fix technical problem