China, the world’s most populous country, has an ironic problem: not enough people attending the Olympics. Not only do they have a plethora of empty seats at the event, the hotel business in Beijing is actually worse than usual during a time when rooms should be filled to capacity. Beijing has begun busing spectators and “cheer squads” into the events and begging their citizens to attend, but thus far have had little success:
Two weeks after announcing they had sold every one of the record 6.8 million tickets offered for the Games, Olympics officials expressed dismay at the large numbers of empty seats at nearly every event and the lack of pedestrian traffic throughout the park, the 2,800-acre centerpiece of the competition.
U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps won his third gold medal Tuesday in an arena with at least 500 no-shows, and there was a smattering of empty seats Wednesday morning as he captured his fourth gold in the 200 butterfly. The U.S. softball team played in a stadium only about 30 percent full on Tuesday, while the day before, 10 of 18 venues did not reach 80 percent capacity, officials said. Meantime, crowds of tourists and fans have been thin in the extravagantly landscaped Olympic Park, which holds 10 venues including National Stadium.
To remedy the problem, officials are busing in teams of state-trained “cheer squads” identifiable by their bright yellow T-shirts to help fill the empty seats and improve the atmosphere. They are also encouraging residents to apply for access to the heavily secured park. …
Across Beijing, hotels and tourist sites are reporting below-average attendance for August. Many of the foreigners in Tiananmen Square, under tight security for the Games, are not individual tourists but part of Olympic delegations.
“Business is worse than at this time last year,” said a receptionist at a 22-room hotel in Beijing’s Chongwen district, where rooms cost $28 a night. “It’s the season for traveling and last year the hotel was full. The Olympics should have brought business to Beijing, but the reality is too far from the expectation.”
Beijing has no idea what is causing the problem. They expected the Olympic area to be overcrowded, not underattended. Even their cheer squads, rounded up from workplaces throughout the city, get dwarfed by the empty seats. Foreigners have not arrived in anywhere near the numbers predicted.
May I suggest two reasons why? First, Beijing made it clear that they would not allow for much freedom in their Olympic presentation. They reneged on a promise of unhindered Internet access for journalists, and as the Post notes, imposed travel restrictions on tourists who did want to attend. Those are not out of the ordinary for China, of course, but it doesn’t exactly scream “Welcome!”
More importantly, though, the Chinese oppression of its people made this Olympic venue a very poor choice. Despite the IOC’s assertion that an Olympiad promotes freedom, it was obvious to everyone that this choice would only give an endorsement — and a great PR opportunity — to the Beijing government. Most people probably decided that they couldn’t abide the hypocrisy and figured that they could catch it on television.
In days past, the IOC had to play a game of balance between East and West during the Cold War. If they granted an Olympics to Lake Placid, they’d have to give one to Moscow, and so forth. That no longer applies. The IOC award to Beijing offended many, especially after China decided to house Olympic delegations at Tienanmen Square, where they slaughtered democracy activists less than 20 years ago.
The IOC damanged its credibility in this decision. The lack of enthusiasm for these Games is a direct result. Not even the Chinese want to contribute to this mockery.