Finding a hotel room during the 2008 Olympics is easier than you might think, but act fast.
The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China is one of the most anticipated world events ever. If you’ve managed to score admission tickets to your family’s favorite sports and booked the trans-Pacific flight, you now face the somewhat daunting task of finding a room during the Olympic period. Booking hotel rooms in Beijing for this August is a good news/bad news proposition.
The first bit of good news: The approach of the games, combined with a real estate and foreign investment boom in China, has spurred on massive hotel development in the capital city. Every major international hotel chain has opened a new property within the last two years, and some have opened two or more. Most of these hoteliers are treating their Beijing real estate as a grand entrance into the China market.
The bad news: Unfortunately, these are primarily high-end properties (Ritz-Carlton, Westin, J.W. Marriott, etc.) that weren’t taking bookings as of early 2008. They claim to be full, but insiders say they are holding out for sponsors, media and VIPs who will swoop in with blank checks and large room blocks. When they do make rooms available to people booking shorter stays, expect exorbitant rates. Exhibit A: The Howard Johnson Regel Court Hotel Beijing Chaoyang quotes a daily rate of $942 (including tax) for a three-day stay during the Games.
Of the Asian luxury hotel companies, Shangri-La is most active in Beijing, with four properties. But among the Shangri-La Hotel Beijing, The Kerry Centre Hotel, the China World Hotel and Traders Hotel, none are currently taking reservations during the Olympics. The Peninsula Palace Beijing is not taking reservations, and the Mandarin Oriental Beijing will not open until at least June of 2008.
The best-located hotel in Beijing for Olympic spectators is the Marco Polo Parkside, Beijing. But good luck getting a room at this five-star hotel located within a 15-minute-walk from Olympic Stadium. Also a short walk away is the Best Western OL Stadium Hotel Beijing. As of early January, this Best Western had availability during the games for $627 per night. Its sister property, Best Western Premier Beijing, is also well-located in the Chaoyang District and is taking bookings for $500.
When booking, keep in mind that most events will take place in the north, between the Third Ring Road and the Fifth Ring Road. Exceptions to this rule include beach volleyball, located in Chaoyang Park along the eastern stretch of the Fourth Ring Road; and basketball and baseball, which will be in the southwest.
The following districts offer the best access to Olympic venues: Chaoyang, Dong Cheng, Xicheng, Xi Dan, Dong Dan and Haidian. If you decide to book a property outside of Beijing proper, locations to the north of the city will be more convenient than the south.
Bad news: Hotels always jack up their rates during the Olympics, and 2008 is no different from any other year in that regard. Right now, hotels are quoting rates of about 10 times their regular ones.
Good news: China is still a buyer’s market for just about everything. Rooms at properties comparable to American 3-star hotels can be booked now for between $100-$200 per night. That’s high compared to everyday rates in Beijing, but it would still be at the low end of rack rates for rooms in Manhattan on any given day.
Bad news: If you are staying in a Chinese hotel, you’ll find a few differences with the lodging you’re accustomed to at home. You may miss some creature comforts like softer sheets and the small fitness centers that have become standard in the United States, and the décor usually tends toward drab.
Good news: Though the comfort level and amenities may be different, Chinese hotels on the whole provide a pleasant enough environment. Beijing has plenty of clean rooms in good locations that should meet your needs.
Bad news: Like many things in China, researching hotels remotely can be difficult, as budget Chinese-owned hotels are often mom-and-pop ventures, without Web sites or staff that speak fluent English. Usually the best way to get a good deal on a room in any Chinese city is just to drop in, but this strategy will probably backfire if you try it this August.
Good news: A few local hotel chains and online booking sites have recently made strides in serving foreign travelers, via their Web sites or on the phone. The Web sites, Elong.com and Ctrip.com, usually have competitive rates but allow booking only within 60 days of your travel dates. Some hotels, however, are taking reservations now for the Olympic period. Here are some Chinese chains where you should find clean, if somewhat spare, accommodations:
Locations in Beijing: 4
Most recent rate quote for Olympic period: 1,245 RMB ($170)
International phone: +86-21-3617-4888
Home Inn (Chinese name: Rujia)
Locations in Beijing: 30
Most recent rate quote for Olympic period: 1,000 RMB ($136 USD)
International phone: 800-820-3333
Domestic phone: 400-820-3333
Jin Jiang Inn
Locations in Beijing: 11
Most recent rate quote for Olympic period: 690 RMB ($94)
International phone: 86-21-3876-4588
Domestic phone: 400-820-9999
Themes: Family Travel