SHANGHAI’S Bund promenade is a series of stone edifices built in the swashbuckling era of the 1920s and 30s by the western trading companies. They have remained largely intact, at least on the outside. Inside it is a different story: some of the buzziest restaurants, bars and clubs are located within the buildings, many with terraces that offer a stunning view over the Huangpu river towards the soaring financial-area skyline of Pudong.
They make great venues for events: the city’s generally mild weather allows terraces to be used all year round, allowing visitors to enjoy cocktails while enjoying the dazzling neon show. The restaurant-terrace pioneer was M on the Bund, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the brainchild of Australian restaurateur Michelle Garnaut.
M on the Bund was the location for the first cover shoot of Vogue China and, in keeping with its cutting-edge reputation, the magazine’s millennial version, Vogue Me, recently held a glitzy bash at the latest, and trendiest, Shanghai spot, Columbia Circle. The nation’s most promising young singers, dancers and musicians performed on stage at the achingly hip venue.
Other renowned companies, including BMW, have held events in the imposing building and grounds, which once housed a private club for expatriate Americans. For many years it languished, until a major renovation saw it fully restored – and adapted – for modern usage. A cluster of trendy restaurants, bars and coffee shops are housed in the complex, with various event options.
The centrepiece is a swimming pool (above), lined by pillars, which is for decoration rather than active participation. For the Vogue Me event, it was filled with hundreds of ping-pong balls; models stood in the pool, with clever lighting giving the impression that they were immersed in water.
Columbia Circle is a one-off, originally designed by an American for Americans, but there are plenty of other restored mansions in the French Concession area that have been turned into restaurants and event spaces. Even almost-derelict warehouses on the fringes of the city have been decorated and re-opened. One of the prime examples is Moganshan art district, also known as M50.
Some of the newer players also offer a different perspective for MICE planners looking for a space with a difference. The Moganshan art distric, located just off the Nanjing Road thoroughfare, has recently played host to events hosted by none other than soccer superstar David Beckham. The boss of the fashion company Diesel, Renzo Rosso, also stayed there.
The hotel, part of the House Collective under the Swire Hotels banner, has the option of using the presidential suite, with its adjoining terrace, or the terrace at Café Gray, which can be booked for private functions. De Beers, Tiffany and Burberry have been among the upscale clients.
Another new entrant is the Mercedes Me (above) showroom on The Bund. The concept, which proved hugely successful in Beijing, is to take a basic car showroom and turn it into a glamorous and trendy venue, where visitors come for a drink, a meal or a coffee and – perhaps – think about making a down-payment on a luxury limousine.
Naturally it was planned with heaps of event space to show off the various Mercedes models, and is able to offer cocktails for up to 300 people or a sit-down dinner for 110 on level one, and slightly fewer on level two.
For less formal gatherings – or a post-conference evening out – Shanghai is awash with possibilities. It may not have the ancient culture of Beijing, but it sure knows how to party.
Shake, on the third floor of a restored downtown building is themed along the lines of the kind of supper club Shanghai had during its earlier raucous era. Diners can enjoy the Asian-themed tapas before the late-evening live music begins usually with a funk or soul theme.
The Xintiandi area, where the city’s resurgent nightlife began, now boasts the super-cool Highline restaurant-cum-bar, which also offers an outdoor terrace. The Cut, located in a mall, also offers fancy cocktails and a terrace view of the city.
And for more simple get-togethers, Shanghai has a great choice of craft breweries, which offer a wide range of ales and simple, pub-style food. Two of the standouts are Boxing Cat Brewery and Liquid Laundry.
The possibilities for planners are endless – and another bonus is that the compact size of Shanghai allows an ambitious itinerary. Even when staying on the less-fashionable Pudong side it is easy to reach the downtown Puxi area via tunnels and bridges.
While Hangzhou’s West Lake is listed as a World Heritage site and the city is due to host the next Asian Games in 2022, it is best known globally as the home of digital shopping behemoth Alibaba. The pioneering company’s presence in the city, the home of billionaire founder Jack Ma, China’s richest individual, has been a significant factor in the recent explosive growth in high-end business-oriented hotels.
If you are a retailer selling goods online to the world’s fastest growing consumer market – whether from China, or overseas – a visit to Hangzhou is essential.
It also means hotels there are well practised at dealing with large conventions and conferences. Another point in its favour is ease of access from its international airport Shanghai thanks to bullet trains that take around half-an-hour to make the journey.
The Hyatt group is well represented in Hangzhou. As well as the Park Hyatt Hangzhou, the Hyatt Regency there was recently upgraded to a Grand Hyatt, offering 388 rooms, more than 3,000 sqm of event space, including a rooftop terrace, and an award winning Chinese restaurant, 28 Hu Bin Road, which showcases regional fare.
An alluring non-chain option is the Xihu State Guest House (above). Also known as West Lake State Guest House, its international credentials come from hosting meetings and banquets when the G20 Summit was held in Hangzhou. Villas, expansive green grounds and proximity to the lake are its hallmarks alongside two conference halls totalling 400 sqm, several smaller options and a lakeside lawn that sprawls across 2,000 sqm.
There is the option of booking standalone villas in the grounds, or spacious rooms in the main building. It is also a peaceful spot, much quieter than the bustling downtown area.
A new addition to the hotel landscape is the Conrad Hangzhou, a 324-room property located in a 50-storey tower. It has an 850 sqm ballroom that can accommodate 450 people for banquets, or 650 in theatre seating.
Due to make its debut later this summer is the 344-room Kempinski Hotel Hangzhou, with 2,000 sqm of meeting and banquet space including a 1,200 sqm ballroom and three outdoor venues.
Such is the increasing importance of Hangzhou in the MICE world that MCI has launched an office in Hangzhou staffed by ten people. The city is certain to continue growing at an explosive pace given the Alibaba connection and the 2022 hosting of the Asian Games, only the third Chinese city to be chosen, after Beijing and Guangzhou.
“The local government is keen to support growth in the tourism industry as well as education, arts and culinary traditions which makes Hangzhou a great choice for MICE organisers,” says Michael Chia, general manager of the Grand Hyatt, Hangzhou.
“The MICE business also requires support from international branded hotels to offer unique experiences, facilities and amenities.”
The famed water town around Shanghai, has developed a respectable collection of hotels capable of hosting larger-scale international meetings and events.
And there is no shortage of cultural attractions in this picturesque town, located within half an hour of Shanghai by high-speed train.
Among the recent openings in the city was the 303-room Shangri-La Yuanqu featuring sweeping views of Jianji Lake. The hotel has more than 3,000 sqm of flexible meeting and conference space including two pillar-free ballrooms with natural daylight.
Another renowned international chain, W, now has a presence in Suzhou. The W Suzhou used traditional elements in its modern design including seats inspired by the rock formations of the classical gardens found throughout the town.
Other options are the 437-room Intercontinental Suzhou, located on the promenade of Jinji Lake in the thriving Suzhou Industrial Park commercial leisure and residential district and, from next year, the Niccolo hotel on the upper floors of the 450-metre-high International Finance Centre.
The city itself, sometimes called the Venice of the East, has a wealth of cultural attractions that can be incorporated into itineraries, including its Unesco-listed classical gardens, some of which dated back 2,000 years. Other spots with long history include Shantang Street, for crafts, Pingjiang Road with its stone bridges, nearby Luzhi Water Town, named after a famous Tang Dynasty poet, and the massive Taihu Lake which has 90 islands. The general Sun Tzu, known for his classic, The Art of War, which is used in contemporary management training, wrote the book while living in Qionglong (Dome) Mountain.