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The Latest About BeijingOctober 1, 2007 By: Mark Rogers Home-Based Travel Agent
New airline routes, how to get tickets to the Games, top hotel picks and more
Getting There: China's major international gateway for flights from the U.S. is Beijing Capital International Airport, 16 miles from the city center.
Carriers with direct flights to China include Continental Airlines (Newark) and United Airlines (Chicago-O'Hare, San Francisco, Washington-Dulles). This summer China and the U.S. signed a landmark aviation agreement to expand air services, doubling the number of commercial passenger departures by 2012 between the two countries. The Department of Transportation is accepting carrier applications for six flights to launch in the next two years: one in 2007, one in 2008 and four in 2009. Carriers are busily filing route authority applications:
American Airlines filed to operate daily nonstop service between Chicago O'Hare and Beijing, starting March 25, 2009. Continental Airlines submitted its application to provide daily service from Newark to Shanghai, starting in 2009; Continental will also provide through-flight service between Cleveland and Shanghai. Delta Air Lines seeks to operate daily nonstop flights between Atlanta and both Beijing and Shanghai. Both routes would fill a gap in air service from the U.S. southeast to China. Maxjet has applied to provide service from Seattle to Shanghai, beginning in 2009. United Airlines seeks to operate daily nonstop service from San Francisco to Guangzhou in 2008; and from Los Angeles to Shanghai in 2009. Northwest is seeking approval of Detroit-Shanghai service for this year and service between Detroit and Shanghai and/or Beijing, effective March 25, 2009. And US Airways launched a bid for daily non-stop flights from Philadelphia to Beijing, to begin in March 2009.
Getting Around: Beijing used to be a city of bikes, but there is now an average of 300 new cars being registered in the city every day. But most visitors won't be driving their own vehicles. Beijing has an extensive, thoroughly modern public transportation network of subways, buses and city rail high-speed trains. Running at intervals of three to five minutes, these trains are the fastest public transportation in the city. In preparation for the Games, Beijing has inaugurated the number 5 subway, which has touch screens on platforms wth live digital programming, and LCD screens on trains. Passengers will even be able to watch Olympic contests during the Games. The Grand Terrace (left) and a Deluxe Room (right) at the Shangri-La Beijing.
Beijing also has plenty of taxis—more than 60,000. The cheapest price for a taxi ride is 10 yuan ($1.30) for the first 1.8 miles; the fare then jumps 2 yuan (25 cents) per .6 of a mile.
Tour Operators: A partial list of tour operators with programs to China includes Abercrombie & Kent (800-323-7308, www.abercrombiekent.com,
[email protected]), China Travel Service (U.S.A.) (800-899-8618, www.chinatravelservice.com,
[email protected]), IsramWorld (800-223-7460, www.isram.com,
[email protected]), Orient Flexi Pax Tours (800-545-5540, www.orientflexipax.com,
[email protected]), Pacific Delight Tours (800-221-7179, www.pacificdelighttours.com,
[email protected]), Pleasant Holidays (800-448-3333, www.pleasantagent.com,
[email protected]), SITA World Tours (800-421-56430 [CK], www.sitatours.com,
[email protected]), Ritz Tours (800-900-2446, www.ritztours.com,
[email protected]), Uniworld Grand River Cruises (800-733-7820, www.uniworld.com) and Viking River Cruises (888-505-7984, www.vikingrivercruises.com).
Getting Tickets: The lottery to reserve tickets ended last June, so those needing to access tickets now will have to resort to other measures. Even though tickets went on sale this month, those to the most popular events will be hard to snare. The sole official 2008 ticket agent in the U.S. is CoSport (www.cosport.com). Another option is the resale market: check eBay, or contact resale brokers like Ticket-Liquidator (www.ticketliquidator.com). One reason for the exceptionally high demand for Beijing's Olympics is the comparative affordability of tickets. Tickets range from a low of $5 for events such as baseball, and spike to $773 for the opening ceremonies.
Hotels: Tickets aren't the only problem. It's predicted that during the Olympic Games the price of Beijing hotel rooms, rental cars and tour guides will all climb four times higher than normal. Airlines and hotels are getting set to take advantage of the demand. Hotel room availability is tight, especially at the top end of the market, and visitors are going to have a tough time finding affordable accommodations and airfare.
There are close to 40 five-star hotels in Beijing and the city is expected to add 4,000 upper-end hotel rooms this year, with 7,000 more in 2008.
Since many hotels have minimum-stay requirements (usually seven nights during the Olympic Games), and since there's little guarantee your client will get the tickets they want the most, it's important they have a back-up plan. Flexibility is key. Take the time to sketch out some touring options for them, either in Beijing or the surrounding area, to take advantage of days when they've been aced out of seats at the stadium.
The five-star 520-room Millennium Beijing (www.millenniumhotels.com) will be in close proximity to the China World Trade Centre. Currently under construction, the hotel is scheduled to open in the first half of 2008.
Shangri-La has announced a new 419-room Traders Hotel (www.tradershotels.com), the company's second in Beijing, due to open early August 2008. The Shangri-La Beijing (www.shangri-la.com) has already filled 70-80 percent of its rooms for August 2008. The hotel is a freestanding building looking out towards the city, and on clear days there are views of the Fragrant Hills; all rooms have either city or garden views. The garden view is of the hotel garden, which is a 9,840-square-foot landscaped Chinese terrace garden with Chinese pavilions, a koi pond and waterfall. The travel agent liaison is Veronica Leung, director of sales (+86-10-6841-2211, ext. 6969, [email protected]).
The Ritz-Carlton Beijing, Financial Street (www.ritzcarlton.com) has 253 rooms and suites, three restaurants, and The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Fitness & Salon. Rooms 1707, 1708, 1709 and 1710 have the best views, overlooking the landscaped park beside the hotel and Beijing's city skyline. The travel agent contact is Maggie Chen, director of sales (+86-10-6629-6686, [email protected]).
Restaurants: Evan Chan, director of Ritz Tours, recommends Quanjude (+86-10-6304-8987, www.quanjude.com.cn/main.php) for its traditional Peking duck dinner. "You'll want to have about eight to ten people in your party, and it will cost about $40 per person, but it's worth it," says Chan. Quanjude roasts duck using open ovens and nonsmoky hardwood such as Chinese date, peach or pear to add a subtle fruity flavor, a technique that was reserved for the imperial families.
Torstein Hagen, founder and chairman of Viking River Cruise, remembers an outstanding meal he had at the Fulinmen Golden Palace Shark Fin Restaurant in the Beijing Inter-national Hotel (800-810-1212, www.bih.com.cn/enviews). "We were hosted by Mr. He, the former chairman of the China National Tourism Office," says Hagen.
Passports and Visas: Visitors need both a passport and visa, the latter of which should be applied for one month before the applicant departs from the U.S. The fee is $50 for a single-entry visa.
Departure Tax: Departing China, there is a 90 yuan (around $12) departure tax, and departure tax on all domestic flights is 50 yuan (around $6.50).
Weather: August and September mark the end of Beijing's summer and the beginning of autumn, with the highest temperature around 86 degrees and the lowest about 60. Mornings and evenings are cool; daytimes are dry and hot. Beijing natives say this is the best time of the year in the capital, with exceptionally clear skies.
Currency: Yuan. At press time the rate was $1 to 7.54 yuan.
Language: Mandarin is commonly used in modern China. Most of China's 55 ethnic groups have their own language.
Electricity: 220 volts is used throughout China, although four- and five-star hotels are wired to accommodate 110-volt appliances.
Tipping: At one time, China frowned upon the practice of tipping, but that's changed. However, it's still not necessary to tip taxi drivers (a good rule is to round off the bill and leave them the change). In restaurants, tips aren't expected, but a tip of 10 to 15 percent on a bill is welcomed. It's customary to tip guides and tour bus drivers, but the amount you tip is up to you—it could range between $1 to $10 per day, depending on the quality of the service.
China National Tourism Office
Beijing Tourism Administration