Olympics inspire more choices for travelers to China

With airlines rapidly expanding their networks and introducing new routes, hotel companies rushing to open more properties, and the government racing to improve tourism infrastructure before the Olympic Games next August, there's no doubt that tourism to China is on a serious upswing. The country is already seeing more visitors than ever before, and tourism will likely ride the high long after the athletes collect their medals and go home.

All this added infrastructure brings China into the realm of travel possibility for people who might have previously considered the country too expensive to reach or too difficult to navigate. That's not to say booking for travel during the Olympics will be easy though, since you'll have to contend with the competition for accommodations, tickets, and activities that comes with the massive influx of spectators. However, increased options on the air and accommodations fronts will make things easier for Olympic and post-Games travelers than ever before.

Airlines

U.S. airlines have been locked in heated battle for new routes to China, and last month, six of them came away victorious. Most triumphant are Delta and United, which will begin flying between Atlanta and Shanghai, and San Francisco and Guangzhou, respectively, in spring 2008. Approval will likely come soon for routes from four more airlines starting in 2009: American between Chicago and Beijing, Continental's Detroit-to-Shanghai route, Northwest between Detroit and Shanghai, and US Airways' Philadelphia-to-Beijing route. These new itineraries mark the first major effect of the recent U.S.-China open skies agreement, created in part to make access between the two countries easier and more affordable.

Meanwhile, Air China has announced codeshares with Cathay Pacific and is working toward joining Star Alliance, alongside airlines such as United and US Airways. And China Southern Airlines, which connects Los Angeles with Guangzhou, has just launched a new English-language ticketing site.

Hotels

Airlines aren't the only travel providers betting on China. Hotel companies are also racing to stake a claim. Best Western hopes to become the largest hotel chain in Asia within three years, and plans to have 50 hotels in China in the next five years. Starwood, which runs Sheraton, W, and Westin Hotels, already has more than 30 properties and is building dozens more. Marriott expects to have 11 hotels in Beijing alone by next August, and anticipates opening another 20 by 2010. And, Accor will open 18 more hotels in China this year, and plans to have over 120 hotels around the country by 2008.

Tourism infrastructure

Rising to meet the tide of visitors are new infrastructures such as airport terminals and better transportation options.

Beijing Capital International Airport will open its new terminal next year in time for the Olympics. The terminal, which has been celebrated as both beautiful and technologically advanced, will be among the world's largest.

A new bicycle rental network in Beijing will have 200 locations throughout the city and offer 50,000 bikes by August of next year. And, to speed travel throughout China, bullet trains that cut travel times between major cities by 50% were introduced earlier this year. According to TravelMole.com (registration required), there will be more than 500 bullet trains in operation by the year's end.

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