Although Guangzhou sits at the heart of the “world’s factory”, it is slowly starting to shake off its working class image thanks in large part to the Asian Games, which put the city – and its new, state-of-the-art Central Business District, dubbed Zhujiang New Town – in the spotlight.
“Because of the Asian Games, Guangzhou has gone upmarket,” says Janet Huang, event sales manager at the Grand Hyatt Guangzhou. “With Canton Tower, the Guangzhou Opera House and Guangzhou Lan Kwai Fong, Zhujiang New Town has suddenly become very fashionable.”
The capital of Guangdong province is a 1.5-hour train ride from Hong Kong. It sits at the heart of the Pearl River Delta, which has come to be thought of as the world’s workshop in recent years. The surrounding countryside – once crisscrossed with orchards and rice paddies and villages – is now chock-a-block with factories turning out everything from garments to consumer electronics to automobiles.
Says John Burger, general manager of the newly opened Hilton Guangzhou Tianhe, “The Pearl River has nurtured this city and has contributed to the achievement of the Pearl River Delta Region, the most developed economic area in China. Therefore, Guangzhou – whether from its humanity or economy perspectives – offers exceptional advantages for the business events industry.”
The two hottest offsite venues for corporate functions of all types are located in the new CBD. The newly built Guangzhou Opera House features dramatic architecture, eye-catching interior and exterior spaces, and a convenient location. It is near a Metro station and surrounded by five-star hotels. The Hilton Tianhe, Grand Hyatt and Sofitel Guangzhou Sunrich have all organised high-profile events at the site since it opened in 2010.
Designed by world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid, the free-flowing structure has several unique characteristics that make it perfect for holding events. “It is a perfect combination of pioneering design and classic art,” says Catherine Cheung of the branding department at the Opera House. “It has the best hardware and software of its kind in Guangzhou, and the space is very flexible.”
The Opera House also has the good fortune to be standing right next to Guangzhou’s modern iconic landmark: Canton Tower. This soaring building is quickly doing for the city what the Eiffel Tower did for Paris, and offers yet another spectacular option for event organisers. The tallest television tower in the world at 600 metres high, this edifice does more than provide state-of-the-art facilities for meetings and incentives. Built at a cost of US$220 million, it has 104,000 sqm of space for retail, restaurants, observation, cinemas, exhibitions and conferences, and is a preferred venue for top brands like luxury car maker Audi (see case study on page 44).
According to Ben Chan, group director at Activation Group, one of the key challenges of staging an event in Guangzhou is coming up with a venue that doesn’t leave attendees muttering, “Been there, done that”.
If the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Museum are the current flavours of the month, savvy event organisers are keeping an eye out for something new. “Clients all have very high standards and want to be the first one or the only one who has ever held an event in a specific place,” Chan says.
Problems associated with renting public spaces in the city make knowing the right people vital. “The biggest challenge using public venues is that it needs to be approved by the government,” Chan says. He once had difficulty getting approval to hold an event at a public venue, and the issue was only resolved when a friend with good ties to the government was able to intervene on his behalf.
Guangzhou is bisected by the Pearl River, the third largest waterway in China. Several companies operate cruises on the river, and both lunch and dinner cruises can be arranged. Up to 100 guests can be accommodated for sit-down lunches or dinners, with three times that number for cocktails.
Corporate groups can take a cruise that will take them past historic districts such as Shamian Island and upscale Ersha Island, as well as under 10 bridges, which are garishly lit at night. This is proving popular with both top executives and government officials as the river ride offers unparalleled privacy, Huang adds.
For those looking for alfresco venues on land, Guangzhou has many parks to choose from. Furthermore, it has a range of alternative venues that are increasingly being made available to corporate groups, such as ancestral homes, museums, heritage sites and temples. One of the most fashionable locations at the moment is Xinyi International Place, a collection of renovated industrial buildings set in a park located in one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods.
Beyond the city limits
As Guangzhou evolves into a sprawling megalopolis, some of the more interesting venues for business events are located in Foshan, roughly one hour west of the city’s downtown.
Swissôtel Foshan has catered several offsite events over the last three years. Venues have ranged from parks and swimming pools to other types of outdoor space for a variety of events. “Buffets and cocktail parties are the most popular type of function,” says Doris Chen, executive of marketing and communications of the hotel.
One of the more interesting venues on the outskirts of the city is Bruce Lee Paradise, the ancestral home of the martial arts movie icon, which attracts avid and loyal fans from all over the world. This extensive park has a nature preserve with lakes, egrets, mountains, trees and walking paths. “Some cultural festivals and exhibitions have already been held there,” Chen says. “It’s a good choice for outdoor events.”
Once an important producer of ceramics, Foshan has two other unique venues for holding events with a distinctive theme: the Foshan Shiwan Ceramics Museum and Creative City, which houses the Nanfeng Ancient Kiln Campus. While product launches are usually held at more traditional venues – such as hotels or convention centres – there is a growing tendency to hold them at venues that can offer a more interesting backdrop.
“My clients adopted an original approach and moved their press conference to the outdoor area of the Creative Park [located in Creative City],” Burger of Hilton Guangzhou Tianhe says. “The guests all sat in the centre of the plaza with a view of the surrounding environment, which was full of innovative architecture and decorations. The design of each part of the press conference was also exceptionable, making a deep impression on the guests.”
Case study: lucky eight
Was there a venue in Guangzhou that could do justice to the 2011 Audi A8, a new spacious four-door sedan? The choice, actually, was quite simple. Where else but Canton Tower, which soars 600 metres above Zhujiang New Town, with its epic river and city views?
Four VIP dinners were staged on subsequent nights on Level 2 of Canton Tower to celebrate the product launch of the 2011 Audi A8. “The Audi event occupied around 8,000 square metres,” Janet Huang of Grand Hyatt Guangzhou, the venue’s official caterer, says. “It was chosen because Canton Tower is the city’s new landmark, and because it offers the best views of Guangzhou as it is surrounded by the Pearl River, Ersha Island and the Zhujiang New Town.”
On the first night members of the press were invited. On the following nights, celebrities from both sides of the of the Taiwan Strait were guests of honour at gala dinners, each for around 200 guests, most of whom were Audi customers or dealers.
The venue was divided into two sections. One half was turned into an outdoor dining room, where sit-down dinners were served each night. The other half was turned into a presentation room to showcase the car. “The setup was in the shape of an ‘8’ since it was the Audi 8 launch,” Huang explains. “One circle was for the car show and the other one for the dinner.”
Cocktails were served during the car show. The main performance followed, and then the appetisers were served. A video of the hotel’s executive chef explaining the concept behind each course, the cooking process and the flavours of each dish was shown to guests before it was served. The same menu was served each night. The colour scheme was red and white. “This was a unique arrangement for this event,” Huang says.
Level 2 of Canton Tower offers event organisers great views and lots of flexibility. With a total of 11,500 sqm, it has no permanent partitions so the space can be divided up according to the specific needs of the organiser.
When asked if the event posed any particular challenges, Huang says that it all came down to attention to detail. “Audi had very high standards for service, food and presentation,” she says, adding that the organisers were very impressed by the view and the video of the chef presenting the dishes.
EVENT NAME: A8
WHERE: Canton Tower
WHEN: February 28 – March 7, 2011
Janet Huang, event sales manager at Grand Hyatt Guangzhou, talking about the massive Canton Trade Fairs that are held in the city twice a year during spring and autumn:
“During this period, everything is booked, so it’s best not to schedule events at these times. Traditionally hotels are fully booked during the fair so forget about negotiating discounts. However, the number of five-star hotels has doubled this year so things aren’t as tight as they used to be.”
Guangzhou International Airport has a large number of flights to both domestic and international destinations. Most visitors from Hong Kong arrive by train. There are several non-stop trains a day from Hung Hom Station in Kowloon, and the journey takes roughly 90 minutes. There are also buses linking Hong Kong International Airport with downtown Guangzhou.
Temperatures are mild, with relatively low levels of humidity, from October through January, and rain is infrequent. Once in a while it can get quite chilly during the winter months. By April, temperature and humidity levels start to rise. It is hot and extremely humid from May through September. Heavy rains, thunderstorms and typhoons are common during the long hot summer.
Cantonese is the mother tongue in Guangzhou, but Mandarin is generally spoken at leading hotels and by other service providers. English is also spoken, but standards vary.
Foreign visitors need a visa, which can be pre-arranged through their local Chinese embassy or consulate. There is no visa-on-arrival service.
Guangzhou Convention & Exhibition Industry Association
Tel: +86 20 8348 4075