Getting to the Winter Games Is an Olympic Headache

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Getting to the Winter Games Is an Olympic Headache

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Traffic moves along a road last month in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where the 2018 Winter Olympics will open on Feb. 9.

Traffic moves along a road last month in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where the 2018 Winter Olympics will open on Feb. 9.


Photo:

Jean Chung/Bloomberg News

SEOUL—Laura Osur, a research analyst from Rochester, N.Y., spent about $1,000 for Olympics tickets at this month’s Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. About three weeks ago, she decided not to go after all.

The reason has nothing to do with North Korea, and everything to do with a more prosaic and widespread concern among overseas Olympics fans: Logistics for the coming Games are proving to be an absolute headache.

Pyeongchang, the host city for the Winter Games, is located in one of the most remote parts of a country where English-language resources are scarce, with scant accommodations and a local transport system that can be confounding for non-native speakers.

Passengers wait at a bus stop in Gangneung, South Korea, where some of the Olympic events will be contested.

Passengers wait at a bus stop in Gangneung, South Korea, where some of the Olympic events will be contested.


Photo:

Jean Chung/Bloomberg News

The main conduit for Olympics travelers, a new high-speed rail line, has been mired in concerns about capacity, and confusion over how even attendees who bought special train passes can secure seats. Many Olympics travelers are at risk of being left in the lurch.

Some die-hard Olympic fans like Ms. Osur, a 32-year-old research analyst who attended the 2014 Sochi Olympics and 2016 Summer Games in Brazil and planned to follow up in Pyeongchang, are throwing in the towel.

Part of the trouble for Pyeongchang fans is that the four-day Lunar New Year break—the peak travel season for much of East Asia—falls in the middle of the Games, further driving up demand for that train.

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Ms. Osur found out the hard way. About a month ago, she learned that train tickets for some of the days she wanted to attend the Games were being sold first domestically because of the Lunar New Year—a practice South Korea’s rail operator says it follows every year during the national holidays.

An official at Korail, South Korea’s train operator, said it has taken extra measures to ease the situation for international visitors traveling with Olympic rail passes. A new batch of train seats was made available just for pass holders late last month, but it isn’t clear if that action will be enough to accommodate the demand.

The Olympics organizing committee has encouraged fans to download a new smartphone app to help with travel planning.

That isn’t enough for travelers like Linda Chou, a 28-year-old software engineer from Taiwan, who last month created a

Facebook

group for frustrated travelers after running into hurdle after hurdle to get train seats.

An aerial photograph of Pyeongchang, the alpine resort town hosting most of the Olympic events.

An aerial photograph of Pyeongchang, the alpine resort town hosting most of the Olympic events.


Photo:

SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg News

Securing seats on the high-speed train to Gangneung, a neighboring city to Pyeongchang where the ice events are being held, she said, “was like a war.”

Ms. Chou, a first-time Olympics fan, quickly found others who shared her disgruntlement. Within a day of creating her Facebook group to exchange information on train tickets, it had 100 members. Today, it has more than 650 members, swapping daily tips on navigating the system.

To better clear a way through Korail’s overtaxed seat-reservation system, Ms. Chou borrowed a Korean person’s membership code to reserve her seats as early as possible. Since the early-reservation webpage was only be available in Korean, she created a 10-page instruction manual for herself, using Google Translate to translate all the Korean text into Chinese. She shared some screenshots of her process on the Facebook page for other members to reference.

“We were really helpful for each other,” she said.

Ms. Osur, meanwhile, canceled her Olympics plans three weeks ago. She can’t get refunds on her sports tickets, and has paid $150 to cancel her flight tickets.

A spokesman for Pyeongchang’s Olympics organizing committee acknowledged it had been slow to supply travel information in English but said it was working with the rail operator to “maximize the comfort” of spectators.

Many fans have lost patience.

“The whole thing is a nightmare to me,” said Lee Meng Fei, a 39-year-old engineer from Johor Bahru, Malaysia, who said last week that he was still struggling to find out how he can get back to his hotel in Gangneung, 37 miles from Pyeongchang, after the opening ceremony on Feb. 9.

Mr. Meng Fei said he found it ridiculous how little information there was on Pyeongchang’s websites about how to get around the region, particularly compared to his last Olympics experience in Beijing in 2008.

“I thought Korea could do it better, but it’s actually not,” Mr. Meng Fei said. “It’s worse.”

Write to Eun-Young Jeong at Eun-Young.Jeong@wsj.com

By | 2018-02-04T01:45:45+00:00 February 3rd, 2018|0 Comments

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