THRILL OF VICTORY: Players from last season's Italian-Cup-winning Lazio pose for a photo after winning the Super Cup 2-1 in Beijing's National Stadium on August 8 (LUO XIAOGUANG)
It is 4 p.m. on a Monday. People are standing in long queues at the entrance to the National Stadium, the most iconic of last year's Beijing Olympics venues. The crowds are not spectators of a game being played in this steel-woven venue, but tourists from around China eager to connect with the spectacular opening ceremony that was broadcast worldwide one year ago and which took place inside the stadium.
A stroll through this empty building, nicknamed the Bird's Nest, costs a visitor 50 yuan ($7.4), a higher entrance fee than almost every other Beijing park or museum.
But for bank clerk Zhou Shun from Wuxi, east China's Jiangsu Province, the visit is well worth the price for his family.
"This tour is very educational, especially for my 10-year-old son," said Zhou, who believes that the building and the opening ceremony it hosted symbolize China's growing national power.
"I wouldn't have chosen this tour package to Beijing if the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube were not on the list of the tour agency," said Li Shaoling, who came from south China's Guangdong Province with her husband and two daughters. "You can clearly see the field anywhere you sit in the stadium."
The Water Cube, which is the nickname of the National Aquatics Center, hosted the Olympic swimming and diving competitions last August and stands in the same complex with the National Stadium.
Chinese people have been enthusiastic about visiting landmark Olympic venues since they opened to the public in the second half of 2008. Their interest has spurred a tourism boom that has so far generated enough revenue to maintain the facilities and has also dismissed Olympic organizers' concerns over the buildings becoming disused blights on the city.
"Some cities staged very successful Olympics, but their image suffered after the Games because they failed to use the sporting venues effectively," Jiang Xiaoyu, former Executive Vice President of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, recently wrote in the Beijing-based China Daily newspaper. In the same article, Jiang wrote that the number of visitors to the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube exceeded even that to the Palace Museum for some time after the Games.
New tourist spot
The Beijing State-owned Assets Management Co. Ltd., representing the Beijing Municipal Government, paid 58 percent of the 3.5 billion yuan ($515 million) total to build the Bird's Nest while a consortium of three companies picked up the rest of the bill. The consortium was granted a 30-year chartered management right to the centerpiece venue of the Beijing Olympics, after which management privileges will go to the Beijing State-owned Assets Management Co. Ltd.
Since the 81,000-capacity stadium was opened to the public last October, the average daily visits have hovered between 20,000 and 30,000, pulling in revenue totaling over 300 million yuan ($44 million) in the first 10 months of its post-Games operation, said Zhang Hengli, Vice President of the National Stadium Co. Ltd., which now runs the Bird's Nest. Ticket sales for the first four months totaled 150 million yuan ($22 million), more than enough to pay the venue's 70-million-yuan ($10.3 million) annual maintenance bill plus the annual interest due for the consortium's investment.