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.

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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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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