China’s ‘polar bear hotel’ opens to full bookings, criticism

All 21 guest rooms in the Harbin hotel include round-the-clock bear viewing.

By Andrew Galbraith, Reuters - March 16, 2021

SHANGHAI — A hotel that bills itself as the world’s first “polar bear hotel” has opened in China’s far northeastern Heilongjiang province, drawing both guests and criticism for its central feature: live polar bears.

The Polar Bear Hotel, part of the Harbin Polarland theme park in Heilongjiang’s capital and largest city, Harbin, opened its doors on Friday with the promise of round-the-clock polar bear viewing from all 21 guest rooms.

“Whether you’re eating, playing or sleeping, polar bears will keep you company,” Harbin Polarland’s official WeChat account said in a post dated Thursday.

Photos and videos from Chinese state media showed people watching two polar bears in an indoor enclosure featuring artificial ice and small pools of water.

Yang Liu, a spokeswoman for Harbin Polarland, told Reuters that the indoor area is only part of the bears’ total enclosure, and that they are let outdoors when temperature and air quality allow.

She said interest in staying at the hotel, where rooms range from 1,888 to 2,288 yuan (about $290.10 to $351.56) per night was “very high,” adding that it is fully booked through a trial period.

Some conservationists criticized the hotel.

“Polar bears belong in the Arctic, not in zoos or glass boxes in aquariums — and certainly not in hotels,” Jason Baker, senior vice president at animal rights group PETA told Reuters on Saturday. “Polar bears are active for up to 18 hours a day in nature, roaming home ranges that can span thousands of miles, where they enjoy a real life.”

In 2016, a shopping mall in the southern city of Guangzhou attracted global condemnation after videos emerged of a polar bear, Pizza, lying on her side in a glass-walled enclosure.

Harbin Polarland, established in late 2005, calls itself the world’s first polar performing arts amusement park.

Additional reporting by Martin Pollard in Beijing.