Friday, September 5, 2008

Hospitality at the Olympics, Part 1

I introduced you to Whitney last May when she was working in Cairo and volunteering at St. Andrews, teaching English to Sudanese refugees. She’s now in China, and has just completed a stint at the Olympics working in the hospitality industry. She has a series of three reports for us.

Whitney writes:

The Olympics were an opportunity to create legends, feats that have never been accomplished in human history – record breaking both in individual performance as well as the collective performance. The individual versus the collective was an interesting contrast that played out on the Olympic stage in China.
These Olympics were both a coming out party for China as well as the biggest Olympics in terms of scale: number of venues, number of participants, spectators, etc. These games were carried out by the collaboration of thousands, maybe even millions, of people. The Opening Ceremonies provided a grand celebration and display of China’s hospitality and excitement to welcome the world to come play on their home turf.

My job provided me with the opportunity to have a front row seat at the coming out party, as I worked closely with the hospitality side of the games. My role was to ensure that the guests coming to stay at the games had a positive experience. On a micro level, I was the liaison between program managers (the tour leaders for each corporate group), the hotel, and the head office for my company. To put it another way, if the games were summer camp for business people and sports fanatics, I was a glorified camp director. I had to make sure that the campers, counselors, and owners of the camp were all communicating and happy.

To me, the theme of this Olympics was the term the Chinese scream as they support their countrymen in the various sporting events – Jaiyo! Jaiyo! – which roughly translates to mean: let’s go!
To give a bit of the background story, the Chinese have been preparing for these games for years. Many of the local hosts are college students who have gone through at least a year of hospitality training, which included: food & beverage service, cultural exchanges, English language training, tourism, and orientation training to become more familiar with the massive metropolis of Beijing. Beijing is four times the size of Singapore and larger than any city in the USA.
The amazing thing is that Beijing is only the third largest city in China. After the venues had been designed and built, the traffic was decreased so that only half the cars were allowed on the roads each day, and the policies were already in place to help decrease the amount of air pollution. So when the games finally came – it felt like the pulse of Jaiyo! Jaiyo! was a distinct beat reverberating around the city.

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