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China 2.0

Why China's Luxury Hotels Are Giving Up Their Stars

A hotel in Shenzhen
A hotel in Shenzhen
Li Juan

BEIJING — Over the past year more than 50 of China’s starred hotels have taken the initiative of voluntarily downgrading themselves. Chen Miaolin, vice-president of China Tourism Association, summed up the reaction of many: “I have simply never heard of such a thing, and I've worked in this field for decades!”

It is indeed curious, since the number of stars is normally associated with the hotel’s ranking by the way it’s furnished, the service level it provides, and thus its pricing. This is why Chinese hotels, like their counterparts around the world, had long struggled to obtain as many stars as possible, with the top level aiming for the five-star category.

But as data shows from the China Tourism Association, since President Xi Jinping took office two years ago and introduced the so-called “Central eight provisions” to improve official work efficiency by, among other actions, streamlining conference activities and promoting thrift, China’s existing 680 five-star hotels have suddenly lost 30% to 50% of their clients. In certain remote areas the average occupancy rate is lower than 50% while overall industry revenue fell by 25% in 2013.

Thus the luxurious hotels’ self-demotion appears to be an attempt for them to skate around their business difficulties in the face of the current public expense restrictions. These initiatives are the latest demonstration of the enormous turnover that China’s high-end hotels get out of public procurement and official receptions, and changes being made in the face of Xi's reforms.

Cut the ribbon-cutting

However, the case of the disappearing hotel stars may also be an early sign of the clever ways around the new belt-tightening. Though the various local governments all clearly specify the cost and the number of stars of the hotels designated for official conferences, it appears that the “self-demoted” luxury hotels have regained their business from officials while managing to maintain their standard prices or even raising them. Therefore the obvious logic is that these luxurious hotels are finding an end-run around the rules to cater to self-serving officials’ needs.

[rebelmouse-image 27088291 alt="""" original_size="1024x683" expand=1]

Photo: kris krüg

This explains why trying to control official pomp by simply restricting the number of stars will not fundamentally solve the problem. By finding loopholes and vulnerabilities in the system, unscrupulous officials can cover all kinds of excessive expenses. So while they used to make a public display out of eating and drinking at the taxpayers’ expense, they are now just doing the same consumption, but in a quieter way.

It seems then that a better approach would be to simply cut the excessive number of meetings, conferences, and symposia that public officials attend. A popular refrain speaks about: “A mountain of documents and ocean of meetings. Leaders and cadres are busy cutting ribbons.” If these official meetings under various names didn’t exist then rampant rent-seeking and corruption would be less likely to occur.

Meanwhile it is time for China’s numerous luxurious hotels, which used to be parasites at official expense, to sound the alarm. They should start to reflect seriously upon how to restructure and run their businesses efficiently instead of taking taxpayers for a ride.

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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