I spent Christmas in Australia travelling there with Air China via Beijing. Beijing airport is fantastic. Massive, modern and new. Oh, and empty; well almost. By any measure Beijing airport is a great achievement but wandering around while waiting for my connecting flight I noticed just how under used it is. Shop attendants stand gazing into space in shops stocked full of designer bags or premium alcohol.
BBC Radio 4 news carried a story today saying that China may have overtaken Germany as the world’s 3rd largest economy and hopefully, once the current financial crisis is over and the world economy recovers, Beijing airport will start to fill.
However, I spent one night in a local Chinese hotel and saw the difference in quality between the airport and the hotel. It occurred to me that the airport runs well now because it is new but if the Chinese are like the rest of the world they will have rushed to get the airport built while neglecting preparations for maintenance. What will happen once the hand driers and the toilets start to break down? With so few travellers the temptation may be to let quality slide.
I am reminded of the Nigerians who, during the oil boom of the 1970s, began a project to build a new capital city. Abuja was built mostly in the 1980s and I visited in 1997. Like Beijing airport, it seemed massively over specified. It’s four lane roads carried very little traffic and the movement of government departments was still incomplete.
Let’s hope Beijing doesn’t go the same way.