These days, a smattering of mostly Chinese tour groups trickles though the stadium. Visitor numbers are in freefall: They plummeted by half in the first six months of 2011 compared to a year before, according to state-run media. The Bird’s Nest cost $480 million to build and its upkeep costs $11 million a year.
But the only international visitors sitting in the stands on a recent day aren’t impressed.
“For me, it’s just a huge concrete place,” says German tourist Christian Lodz. “Personally I think, after four years, it looks a little bit shabby.”
“What I think is interesting is that it’s just not used for anything useful,” says his countryman Henne Zelle, waving at a crane and tarpaulins in the middle of the stadium. “There’s a construction zone there, and it’s kind of dirty.”
The problem is how to fill the empty expanse of seats; the stadium is designed to house 91,000 spectators.