This sweeping statement is based on non-scientific evidence û a vacation û and relying upon the results of our FinanceAsia Business Travel Poll.
Most of our readers spend time in Beijing on business and would agree that the services have vastly improved over the past decade. But as a tourist, the city takes on a completely different feel, thanks largely to the upcoming Olympics. I spent the weekend in Beijing as a classic tourist û travelling with a toddler and my parents who are aged in their seventies. We flew up to Beijing to visit the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square û the very sites that tourists heading to the city for the Olympics will visit.
IÆve done that trip three times now over the past 17 years and it was by far the worst experience thanks to the enterprising (daresay capitalist?) touts trying to sell souvenirs, maps, and of course ôgenuine Rolexö watches. The adult salesmen who attacked enforce, one after the other, were annoying and lacking the sense of humour of the hawkers at, say, the Taj Mahal or those who line the public beaches of Vietnam. Mark that difference (at least with respect to India) to language barriers and you might cut them a break.
Far worse were the teenagers, who had the markings of pickpockets û particularly when they started to hang on me as I was carrying my sleeping son. At the Forbidden City I found myself telling my parents, ôJust another 100 metres and weÆll have to pay to get in û there will surely be fewer of them inside.ö Who looks forward to paying?
Should that entirely put you off? Perhaps not. While my inner liberal cringes at writing this, the truth is, China might well decide closer to the event to crack down on such behaviour and clean up this nuisance.
Far more worrying was the service at the Grand Hyatt, a hotel that won our top nod for Beijing in the annual FinanceAsia Business Travel Poll, which was published in the November issue. On Friday, we booked a minivan with a baby car-seat to take us to the Great Wall on Saturday. But when we showed up the next morning, the concierges (there were three standing about) told us that theyÆd already given the baby car seat û the only one the hotel had û to someone else. They made no effort to do anything about this. We complained. When I asked to speak to the manager, the young concierge mimicked my request but he acquiesced. Roughly 20 minutes later the staff presented a plastic high chair as a car-seat substitute. With wheels.
Now admittedly, this would make for a marvellous cartoon; a child sliding around a minivan while sitting on a rolling high chair. And, to be fair to the Grand Hyatt, they did find a car seat for us, in the end. We left 50 minutes later than intended but they also deducted 15% from the bill and a bottle of wine and truffles were awaiting us in our suite when we returned from the trip. True to their international standards, they did everything they could to make it up to us. From a business traveller's point of view, I understand why the Grand Hyatt took the top spot -- the gym is impeccable, the food varied and tasty, the rooms spotless. And few business travellers have need for a car seat.
But the tale speaks of the quality of service down the line in the chain-of-command. The Olympics will be a one-off shot at proving Beijing is up to international standards. From the looks of things now, Beijing is going to have to up its standards û on the lower levels, which means that itÆs not just the senior concierge who needs to be fluent in multiple languages, but lower-level staff also need to be competent as well. The streets, particularly around high-profile tourist areas, need to be traveller friendly. Otherwise, the payoff from the Olympics will be minimal at best.
Given that only 20% of our readers plan on going to Beijing for the Olympics that either indicates weÆre all too busy or weÆve all taken a jaded view that we expect it to be problematic.