No visitors in ten years for Swedish tourist spot

When a Chinese billionaire commissioned the Dragon Gate hotel "to unite China and Sweden", he probably never imagined that it would still be without a single paying customer ten years on. The Local finds out more as the motorway oddity nears its tenth anniversary.

No visitors in ten years for Swedish tourist spot

If you’ve ever driven along the E4 motorway near Gävle in eastern Sweden, you may have noticed an unusually oriental-looking building looming over the roadside. Tall, grey, and surrounded by construction work, the Dragon Gate hotel is as baffling a tourist attraction as they come.

IN PICTURES: See more of the Dragon Gate

Chinese billionaire Jingchun Li, who made his fortune in mosquito repellent, bought the Hotell Älvkarlen in 2004 and commissioned a rebuild, promising it would be the hotspot “where east meets west”. To this date, only the restaurant, museum, and souvenir store have been opened to customers.

But why?

“The hotel is not ready yet, it will open next year in the spring,” Kenny Li, who works in the Dragon Gate restaurant, told The Local.

“It’s an old hotel that’s being rebuilt, and these things take a long time. The water system needs to be reinstalled, for example. It takes longer to rebuild an old hotel than to build a hotel from scratch.”

The project has been hampered by other problems too.

In 2004, it was stung by the Swedish Work Environment Authority (Arbetsmiljöverket) and ordered to pay 1.1 million kronor ($167,000) for its bad conditions for staff. In 2008, it was voted “the worst building of the year” by the Byggnads Arbetaren newspaper.

The owner of the hotel, 66-year-old “Mister Li”, has been previously registered as living in Solna, north of Stockholm, has now left the country according to the Arbetarbladet newspaper.

Dragon Gate pulled in 5.5 million kronor last year, a long stretch from the 200 million kronor invested in it so far, the paper wrote.

Staff at the hotel confirm, however, that the billionaire “is loaded with money” and is not concerned with the figures.

So what can a visitor enjoy now? There are 200 replica terracotta soldiers in the museum, an enormous Guanyin statue, and a bouncy castle that costs 20 kronor a pop. The restaurant serves Chinese food and the souvenir shop sells Chinese trinkets, including miniature terracotta men.

While it remains unknown exactly when the Dragon Gate hotel will open its doors, one thing is clear: the team has loftier aspirations than just a drizzle of bemused tourists.

The official website promises a conference centre opening in spring, and a launch of the hotel with 56 individually designed rooms. A link to “Pictures of the Rooms” promises images to be uploaded in the spring.

In the meantime, the museum, restaurant, and shop remain open to a public which has so far been reluctant to enter the Dragon Gate.

SEE ALSO:Sweden’s oddest tourist attractions

/The Local/og

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Sweden launches bid to become world’s top tourism destination by 2030

Forget the pyramids, the canals of Venice or the Eiffel Tower – the Swedish government has presented a plan to make Sweden the world's most attractive tourism destination by 2030 – but it's not yet clear how.

Sweden launches bid to become world's top tourism destination by 2030
Many tourists are attracted to Sweden because of its nature. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

In a press conference on Monday, Sweden’s Minister for Business, Industry and Innovation Ibrahim Baylan outlined the new strategy, which aims to make Sweden “the world’s most sustainable and attractive tourism destination built on innovation” by 2030.

Baylan referred to Sweden as a country which “is usually ranked as one of the world’s most innovative countries”, which he argued can “create value for the tourism industry”.

According to Baylan, the strategy builds on “sustainability’s three dimensions – it has to be environmentally, socially and economically sustainable”. The strategy will also “tie into the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030”, he said.

Topics covered by the new tourism strategy include the climate impact of tourism, equality and inclusion in the tourism industry and the importance of preserving shared resources such as national parks and sustainable nature tourism such as fishing and hunting.

The press release highlights the importance of natural tourism, explaining that the pandemic has led to people visiting natural and cultural environments “to a greater extent than before”, increasing wear and tear to natural areas.

DISCOVER SWEDEN: The Local’s guide to Sweden’s top destinations and hidden gems

Tourism is an important industry for Sweden, providing employment in both urban and rural areas, as well as generating wealth – before the coronavirus pandemic, the tourism industry represented on average 2.7 percent of Sweden’s GDP per year. The tourism industry also employs a high amount of people from foreign backgrounds – making up over a third (34 percent) of all employees in the industry.

During the pandemic, overnight stays declined in almost every Swedish municipality, with the biggest declines seen in Sweden’s larger cities and border municipalitites.

The government’s plans also include a focus on jobs and skill development, so that workers have the right qualifications for the industry – this reflects issues currently faced by the restaurant and hotel industry in finding skilled workers in the wake of the pandemic. 

There are currently no details as to how the government will achieve this strategy, or indeed how it will measure success. But Sweden is aiming high if it wants to be the world’s most attractive tourist destination by 2030. In 2019, it was ranked the 54th top tourist destination in the world by the UN World Tourism Organisation.