Angered by Beijing's policies on a restive Tibet, strife-torn Sudan and human rights, demonstrators have dogged the Olympic torch relay, several countries' leaders have talked of boycotting the opening ceremonies, and some in Congress have urged President Bush to do the same.
But this year's brouhaha gives potential attendees plenty to think about, including whether they should go and what would happen if they were to cancel their travel plans.
Mark Lewis, president of Jet Set Sports in Far Hills, N.J., parent company of CoSport, the official U.S. vendor for 2008 Olympics tickets, declined to discuss the political controversies. But ticket demand was "very strong," he said earlier this month.
CoSport's ticket allotments for the opening and closing ceremonies weresold out, he said, except for those packaged with hotel stays; tickets for some other events were still available.
Under a complicated marketing system, CoSport has exclusive rights in the U.S. to sell tickets and ticket-hotel packages for the 2008 Olympics; it does not sell airfare with the packages. Other companies are free to sell travel to China during the Games, of course, but not event tickets.
Don Williams, vice president of marketing and sales for Cartan Tours Inc. in Manhattan Beach, which sells travel packages that cover the Olympics period, said none of his company's Beijing-bound customers had canceled.
"We have received a few calls from people who have booked extensions to Tibet, asking about the status of travel," he said. (Civil unrest in that region has prompted the U.S. State Department to issue a travel alert.)
If you booked a package and decide you don't want to go, canceling and getting your money back may be hard.
Olympics tickets and packages sold by CoSport are nonrefundable, Lewis said. On the company's website, www.cosport.com, the "Terms and Conditions of Sale" section says that such purchases are "noncancelable for any reason or cause whatsoever."
Other companies selling travel to China during the Games may have similar policies. "Pretty much, the Olympics is sold on a nonrefundable basis," Williams said.
You may have more luck canceling the non-Olympics part of your trip, Cartan would "definitely consider" refunds for tour extensions to Tibet, Williams said, if customers canceled far enough ahead, typically 60 to 90 days before departure.
If you bought trip insurance for your Olympics travel, you may be able to recover money if you cancel. Or you may not. It depends on the policy and the reason. If you want to go and haven't booked, consider insurance.
Package or bundled insurance policies, which combine several types of coverage, typically charge premiums of 5% to 8% of the trip cost. Besides assisting you along the way, they generally provide refunds on deposits if you cancel a trip because of illness, natural disaster or other listed reasons.
The terms can be complicated.
For instance, you may be able to cancel your trip and collect on the policy if there's a terrorist attack in a city within a certain period before you're scheduled to arrive.
Not so if the problem is a civil disturbance such as Tibet has undergone, said Dan McGinnity, spokesman for AIG Travel Guard, an insurer based in Stevens Point, Wis.
"I'm not aware of any policies that cover civil unrest," he said. "It's usually lumped in with acts of war as a general exclusion."
For broader coverage, consider a "cancel for any reason" policy. Terms and premiums vary.
At AIG Travel Guard, such policies typically cost 40% more than standard ones and may refund 50% to 75% of trip deposits, McGinnity said. They cover you even if you change your mind and just decide not to go, for political or other reasons.
How much is peace of mind worth? That's up to you. Given the troubled run-up to the 2008 Olympics, it could be worth a lot.