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#AdventCalendar: Is this Sweden’s oddest tourist attraction?

Each day of December up until Christmas Eve, The Local is sharing the story behind a surprising Swedish fact as part of our own Advent calendar.

#AdventCalendar: Is this Sweden's oddest tourist attraction?
The enormous Chinese-inspired hotel complex has never welcomed a guest. Photo: Magnus Hjalmarson Neideman / SvD / TT

When you think of Swedish architecture, you probably either imagine the classic red wooden cottages of Dalarna or perhaps the sleek and chic buildings of central Stockholm and Gothenburg.

But along the E4 motorway stands one of the country's most surprising tourist attractions, a huge Chinese-inspired building named Dragon Gate.

Originally a hotel, the site also had a stint as a refugee centre before it was bought by a Chinese billionaire in 2004, who had ambitions to turn it into a Chinese-Swedish business centre. Later, the plan changed so that Dragon Gate would become a cultural hotspot, with a hotel, museum, restaurant and gift shop. 

The museum hosts 200 replica terracotta soldiers, while owners have previously talked of plans to build the world's largest Buddha and even bring a live panda to the site.


Dragon Gate overlooks the E4 motorway, some 140 kilometres north of Stockholm. Photo: Magnus Hjalmarson Neideman/SvD/TT

Things haven't quite gone as hoped and the site has faced a string of problems. The companies that ran Dragon Gate went bankrupt at one stage, there have been huge fines for poor working conditions, and in 2008 an architecture magazine named the site “the worst building of the year”.

For years, only the museum, restaurant and gift shop were open to the public, despite the project costing around 250 million kronor.

But in 2018 the bizarre spot changed hands again and got a new owner.

Dragon Gate's hotel finally opened, though it is only available as an event venue or for group bookings of at least 15 people.

In the owners' words: “This mysterious place has for many years intrigued people. It has made them ask themselves; what is a Chinese built venue is doing in the middle of nowhere, yet close to everything?”

“Dragon Gate is up for rent and you can pretty much turn it into whatever you want,” it promises.

Each day until Christmas Eve, The Local is looking at the story behind one surprising fact about Sweden, as agreed by our readers. Find the rest of our Advent Calendar HERE and sign up below to get an email notification when there's a new article.

 

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How a rental car shortage in Europe could scupper summer holiday plans

After long months of lockdowns and curfews Europeans are looking forward to jetting off for a bit of sun and sand -- only to find that their long awaited holiday plans go awry due to a shortage of rental cars.

How a rental car shortage in Europe could scupper summer holiday plans
Tourists wait outside of rental car agencies in Corsica. Photo: PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP

In many areas popular with tourists cars are simply not available or subcompacts are going for a stiff €500 euros.

Car rental comparison websites show just how expensive renting a vehicle has become for tourists this summer.

According to Carigami, renting a car for a week this summer will set tourists back an average of 364 euros compared to 277 euros two years ago.

For Italy, the figure is 407 euros this summer compared to 250 euros in 2019. In Spain, the average cost has jumped to 263 euros from 185 euros.

According to another website, Liligo, daily rental costs have nearly doubled on the French island of Corsica. At the resort city of Palma on the Spanish island of Mallorca, rental prices have nearly tripled.

Today’s problem is a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Faced with near absence of clients, selling off vehicles to raise cash made a lot of sense for car rental firms struggling to survive.

“Everyone drastically reduced their fleet,” said the head of Europcar, Caroline Parot.

Until the spring, most companies still had fleets roughly a third smaller than in 2019, she said.

Car rental firms are used to regularly selling their vehicles and replacing them, so rebuilding their inventory should not have been a problem.

Except the pandemic sent demand for consumer electronics surging, creating a shortage of semiconductors, or chips, that are used not only in computers but increasingly in cars.

“A key contributor to the challenge right now is the global chip shortage, which has impacted new vehicle availability across the industry at a time when demand is already high,” said a spokesman for Enterprise.

It said it was working to acquire new vehicles but that in the mean time it is shifting cars around in order to better meet demand.

No cars, try a van

“We’ve begun to warn people: if you want to come to Italy, which is finally reopening, plan and reserve ahead,” said the head of the association of Italian car rental firms, Massimiliano Archiapatti.

He said they were working hard to meet the surge in demand at vacation spots.

“But we’ve got two big islands that are major international tourism destinations,” he said, which makes it difficult to move cars around,
especially as the trip to Sardinia takes half a day.

“The ferries are already full with people bringing their cars,” he added.

“Given the law of supply and demand, there is a risk it will impact on prices,” Archiapatti said.

The increase in demand is also being seen for rentals between individuals.

GetAround, a web platform that organises such rentals, said it has seen “a sharp increases in searches and rentals” in European markets.

Since May more than 90 percent of cars available on the platform have been rented on weekends, and many have already been booked for much of the summer.

GetAround has used the surge in demand to expand the number of cities it serves.

For some, their arrival can’t come fast enough.

Bruno Riondet, a 51-year-old aeronautics technician, rents cars to attend matches of his favourite British football club, Brighton.

“Before, to rent a car I was paying between 25 and 30 euros per day. Today, it’s more than 90 euros, that’s three times more expensive,” he said.

In the United States, where prices shot higher during the spring, tourists visiting Hawaii turned to renting vans.

In France, there are still cars, according to Jean-Philippe Doyen, who handles shared mobility at the National Council of Automobile Professionals.

“Clients have a tendency to reserve at the last minute, even more so in the still somewhat uncertain situation,” he said.

They will often wait until just a few days before their trip, which means car rental firms don’t have a complete overview of upcoming demand, he added.

He said business is recovering but that revenue has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels as travel is not yet completely unfettered.

SEE ALSO: British drivers will no longer need an insurance ‘green card’ to visit Europe, EU rules

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