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Travel Agencies Concerned About the Games Tour


Amid the chorus of voices hailing the positive effect the 2008 Olympic Games will have on the tourism industry, a dissonant note can be heard emanating from some domestic travel agencies. Some have forecast that their revenue from regular inbound and domestic tourism will decline next year. Those two segments contribute a major part of their annual income. The Games are expected to benefit the outbound tourism sector and high-end commercial tourism. "The prices of hotel rooms, vehicles and tour guides in Beijing during the Olympic Games will all be at least four times higher," said Yao Yuecan, president of the China International Travel Service Head Office. "Booking these services in advance will put a lot of pressure on our capital flows and thus create a lot of risk for us travel agencies," he said at a recent forum on the Olympics and tourism in Qingdao, east China's Shandong Province. In addition, many of the overseas tourists who would like to visit Beijing will deliberately avoid coming during the Games and perhaps even wait until the following year, when prices will have returned to their normal levels. This will even influence tourist flows to famous tourist destinations like Xi'an in northwest China's Shaanxi Province. Of the 180,000 foreign tourists that Xi'an China International Travel Service received last year, 60 percent of them had passed through Beijing, said Sun Xueqi, the agency's deputy general manager. Sun forecast that the number of inbound tours would drop off next year. Citing similar reasons, Zou Feng, vice-president of the China Travel Service Head Office, predicted that less domestic travelers would visit Beijing and other Olympic cities during the year. The only beneficiary might be the outbound tourism sector, Zou said. "The expanded air transport services available in 2008 will mean more facilities to develop outbound tour routes and products," he said. Beyond all these factors, travel agents are also upset that they are not allowed to sell tickets for the Games. "Allowing travel agencies to sell some tickets was a routine practice during past Olympic Games. The policy for the Beijing Games has kept us from designing special tour packages to attract overseas travelers," Zou said. The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG) has decided that 75 percent of the Games' 7-million-odd tickets will be sold via the Games' official website and the Bank of China. The remainder are to be sold by the Olympic committees of other countries and regions. "We have been unable to design tour products featuring the Olympic Games. More importantly, without tickets to attract and organize tourists, we have a hard time reaching out to customers," a tour agency manager was quoted by China Tourism News as saying. All four of the travel agency bosses attending the Qingdao forum called on the BOCOG to reconsider its ticket policy. But tourism experts said the ticketing policy was not a problem. Xu Jing, the regional representative for Asia and the Pacific of the United Nations World Tourism Organization, said the policy would not affect travel agencies' business. "People who have bought tickets will still turn to travel agencies to book hotel rooms and flights, and travel agencies can still gain profits from providing these service," Xu Jing said. Travel agencies can make up for any losses in the inbound tourism sector by tapping the high-end meeting, incentive, conference and exhibition (MICE) market, which is still relatively virgin territory. "There will be a lot of business in the MICE tourism sector because every Olympic Games is a platform for Olympic partners to expand their brands' names and increase sales. Large domestic enterprises and companies will also use the opportunity to organize activities," Zou said. In China, MICE tourism is still a relatively unexplored market. "Domestic travel agencies have advantages because they have easy access to local resources, and can help organize public activities," Zou said. He predicted that business relating to the MICE would become a new driver of economic growth next year for travel agencies. The tourism impact of the Olympics is not just measured in the number of visitors that attend the event itself. The last Olympics gave Greece almost 40 billion hours of television time, which is more marketing than can be done in 15 years.

(Source:China Daily , 2007-05-30)