For a city with the avowed intention to be a leading global business events destination, October 16, 2010 may be viewed as a signature day. This was when the Shanghai World Expo welcomed more than one million visitors for the first time – the largest ever single-day World Expo attendance. By 9pm, the accumulated total number of visitors had reached 64.6 million people, beating Osaka’s 1970 total of 64.2 million and making the Shanghai 2010 World Expo the most-visited Expo in history.
After several years of relentless pre-Expo hype and a comprehensive citywide infrastructural makeover, followed by six months of record-breaking attendances, Shanghai is now preparing for the post-Expo era. Developing a sustainable, year-round business-events economy is part of the plan, in addition to ramping up the city’s appeal to China’s booming domestic tourism sector.
“The World Expo 2010 has given us confidence, and many new opportunities, to undertake more MICE business in future. We already have the high-standard facilities, convenient transportation and good services,” says Patrick Chen, deputy director of international tourism promotion at the Shanghai Municipal Tourism Administration.
What the city has lacked, however, is a persuasive presence in the international convention marketplace. That could be about to change. In October, the Shanghai Tourism Administration announced the appointment of nine MICE ambassadors, each with “a strong influence in their own field, such as medical care, arts and education”. The move follows the launch in April of a 25-person Shanghai MICE task force, comprising representatives from the city’s hotels, airlines, event companies and tourism businesses.
Among the nine appointees, Christophe Lajus, area general manager of Crowne Plaza in Shanghai, is the only non-Chinese one. He believes the Expo will have a positive effect on Shanghai’s bid to host more major events. “Due to the huge national and international exposure of the World Expo and the high level of service and internal organisation for this event, Shanghai will now be ‘top of the list’ for future major association and international conferences for the next several years,” he says.
Shanghai clearly means business – and meetings, events and incentives are viewed as a bankable growth industry. The legacy of the World Expo will not just be the city’s raised profile, but also its vastly improved infrastructure, including new meetings and events venues, several new luxury hotels and a greater diversity of entertainment venues.
In addition, Shanghai now boasts two upgraded international airports and super-high-speed train connections to neighbouring cities such as Nanjing, Hangzhou and Suzhou, which are increasingly utilised by event planners as alternative excursion and themed event locations.
Another legacy of the Expo is the unprecedented variety and scope of artistic and cultural entertainment that Shanghai experienced between May and October – opening up new creative doors for business event companies.
In addition to Australia-based David Atkins Enterprises’ spectacular opening ceremony – the world’s largest outdoor multimedia display – and hundreds of seminars, conferences and launch events, the Expo also welcomed Walloon stilt-walkers, a host of Spanish Michelin-starred chefs, Afro-Latino rap artists from Colombia, world-class ballet from Monaco – plus Fenix I, one of the human capsules used to rescue the 33 trapped miners in Chile.
While much of the 5.28sqkm expo site will be redeveloped, a handful of marquee pavilions will remain in situ. The 2010 World Expo centrepiece structure, the 63-metre tall China Pavilion – invariably described as “Shanghai’s Bird’s Nest Stadium” – reopened to the public from 1 December, although its eventual role has yet to be clarified.
Given its pivotal importance to the success of attracting Chinese visitors to the Expo, event organisers are hopeful that it will become available for premium level events, receptions and banquets.
One Expo building the future of which seems clearer is the 400m long Expo Centre, which has become the new Shanghai Convention Centre. Inside, it features a 7,200sqm grand hall and a 2,500-seat auditorium, plus myriad meeting and banquet rooms.
“Booking for events has begun already,” says Patrick Chen.
Christophe Lajus of Crowne Plaza says: “The conference facilities in Shanghai have greatly improved over the past several years, including the new exhibition centre on the Expo site as well as the extension of SNIEC [Shanghai New International Expo Centre] in Pudong,”
“There are also plans for an additional conference centre in Hongqiao, which will help attract sizeable domestic MICE business to that part of the city.”
Perhaps the most highly anticipated post-Expo venue is the oyster shell-shaped Mercedes-Benz Arena, which sits on the Huangpu riverside in Pudong. This multifunctional complex is the first arena in China to have a naming rights deal and has been jointly developed by AEG, the Oriental Pearl Group and the US National Basketball Association (NBA).
The Mercedes-Benz Arena, which operated as the Expo Performance Centre during the World Expo, aims to be “China’s state-of-the-art showplace for culture, arts, sports and entertainment events,” says Tim Chen, chief executive of NBA China, at the deal signing in December 2009. In addition to the main auditorium, it features 84 deluxe corporate entertainment suites for hosting clients and incentives groups, a Cineplex, ice-skating rink, a Hennessy music club and 20,000sqm of retail space. It plans to host world-class theatrical shows, concerts and conventions.
The arena opened immediately after World Expo, on November 1, and initially promised “a spectacular four-month programme of top international and Asian artists”. Shows already scheduled include Cantonese singing legends Faye Wong and Jacky Cheung.
“The Mercedes-Benz Arena is not just another arena, but one of the most unique and vibrant entertainment destinations in the world,” says Guy Ngata, general manager, AEG-OPG Culture and Sports (Shanghai).
The as-yet-incomplete Rockbund Waitanyuan redevelopment at the confluence of the Huangpu and Suzhou rivers is already creating a stir.
“This is one of the most exciting new areas of Shanghai,” says Ani Albutt, founding director of Hong Kong and Shanghai-based ANI-IMC, an integrated public relations, marketing and event agency. This “art-creative lifestyle complex” features warehouse-style spaces, large museums and internal courtyards with an overall ambience of old Shanghai architecture, mixed seamlessly with new facades.
“The Rizzoli publishing house, which publishes Casa da Arbitare magazine in China, recently held their anniversary party here,” says Albutt. “The connecting rooms with very high ceiling and a ‘raw’ warehouse feel make it very user-friendly. You can create your own environment, rather than be dictated [to] by the venue.”
The first venue to open at Waitanyuan was the Rockbund Art Museum, which was unveiled before Expo in the revamped former Royal Asiatic Society building, dating from 1932. The six-floor gallery is equipped with audio-visual and multimedia equipment for hosting receptions, business events, brand launches and parties.
Heralding from Hong Kong, late-night lounge Drop opened at 55 Yuanmingyuan Road in September and is being touted as an upscale location for product launches and VIP parties.
“It is Asian-owned and managed and they are flexible for new event ideas and very accommodating,” says Albutt.
Hui Residence, an upscale Chinese restaurant, will open at 97 Yuanmingyuan Road – where a strip of heritage buildings are being recreated as high-end luxury brand stores, boutique hotels, restaurants and galleries by early 2011.
The Hongkou and Yangpu districts, north of the Bund, are also emerging events areas, offering a range of hip and offbeat spaces in converted warehouses and industrial buildings.
A venue to watch may be the shipyards beside the Huangpu River. One of the three old brick buildings here was leased by the Danish Consulate for the period of the Expo and called the Nordic Lighthouse.
“We wanted to create a space for smaller- and medium-sized Nordic companies to take advantage of all the people and opportunities that Expo brought to Shanghai,” says Nicholas Enemark Elley, event manager of the Nordic Lighthouse. “There are a lot of great possibilities for this North Bund venue due to its adaptability and heritage value.”
Lori Moggy, director of events for The Mint Organisation Shanghai, agrees that it possesses real post-Expo promise. “This cool area of redeveloped factories and a pedestrian promenade is perfect for indoor and huge outdoor events with a difference. Situated beside the water, it boasts great views of the river and Pudong.”
Also on the North Bund is the Shanghai International Ocean Terminal. As well as being the city’s new cruise port, it features “The Shanghai Chandelier”. This central feature has three enormous suspended pods, the first of its type in the world, with restaurants, shops, and events venues.
“On the roof is a private VIP venue, with 360-degree views overlooking Pudong, the Huangpu River and the Bund, which is scheduled to open in late 2010,” says Albutt.
In the heart of old Shanghai, 49 French Concession mansions from the 1920s are being combined into the Sinan Mansions’ upscale development. The deluxe all-villa Hotel Massenet offers banqueting and ballroom facilities and private corporate villas. Several new restaurants will be located in a gourmet alley.
Serving up high-tech private dining will be French chef Paul Pairet of Shanghai’s Jade on 36 and Mr & Mrs Bund restaurant fame. Pairet describes his new 10-seat dining room in a “secret location” by Suzhou Creek as “a highly experimental place, using interactive technology to engage different senses”. Each dish in the 20-course set menu is accompanied by a “choreographed interplay of sensory components” – from video projections and scents to music and mists. This highly anticipated dining experience is set to open its doors in January.
Offshore incentive events are also becoming more realistic now that Shanghai’s new international cruise terminal is welcoming more ships.
The city is expected to handle around 150,000 passengers and around 120 cruise ships in 2010, up from 80 in 2009. Both Costa and Royal Caribbean now regularly use Shanghai as a base port and several more Asia-Pacific cruise routes are expected to open in the next three years.
Looming a little further in the distance is Shanghai Disneyland, which broke ground in Pudong in November. Once fully completed later this decade, the Disney park is slated to cover an area of around 10sqkm and will target a primarily domestic Chinese leisure and corporate travel base. “It will boost the domestic tourism of Shanghai without question, since Disneyland is a brand new attraction for Chinese travellers,” says Patrick Chen.
Shanghai’s ambitious investment in business events infrastructure and service quality, not to mention the hosting of the 2010 World Expo, was targeted to raise the city’s profile as a major meeting and event destination.
Its gambit looks likely to reap dividends, says Moggy of The Mint Organisation. “Although it won’t come into effect until mid-2011, we are now actively promoting Shanghai as an alternative MICE destination to Hong Kong – or using the two cities in conjunction with each other.”
Ani-IMC Hong Kong Ltd
BI Worldwide / The MINT Organisation Shanghai
Albert Ng, chief executive, Wild China, Shanghai
What will the legacy of World Expo be for Shanghai meetings and events?
The Expo has really reinforced Shanghai’s position as an international city and a key place to hold meetings and conferences. One of the great aspects of the Expo is its long-term effect on Shanghai’s infrastructure. As a result, Shanghai now boasts more international quality hotels and has demonstrated that it is able to effectively handle a large volume of people. Although it may not result in an immediate explosion of new business, there will definitely be a gradual increase over time.
Do you expect to see any change in demand for inbound corporate travel and meetings in the post-Expo period?
I believe corporate travel will increase in the post-Expo period, although the reason is not only Expo related. In recent years, Shanghai has become an even more important destination and growth following the Expo will continue. Ten years ago, meetings coming to Shanghai were relatively rare; five years ago, such meetings had become more commonplace; and today, this type of meeting occurs daily. As China continues to gain prominence as an international economic power, Shanghai will be a world destination.
What types of meetings and events will be most popular?
Lower-level meetings will become more common, as the demand for corporate travel to Shanghai continues to increase. In addition, since Shanghai has more hotels and thus an increased capacity for visitors, and perhaps even an overcapacity, this will encourage prices to fall and further promote Shanghai as a destination.
What are your top picks for extracurricular entertainment or activities in Shanghai?
Since the city is so big, there are very few limitations. Of course, there are the Shanghai staples: a walk through the French Concession, a stroll along the Bund to see the remnants of colonial Shanghai on one side of the river and evidence of further growth on the other, or a trip to the top of the Shanghai World Financial Centre to take in the views from one of the world’s tallest buildings. However, Shanghai also offers more intimate experiences beyond the typical attractions.
One interesting activity is to host themed dinner nights, choosing a location to fit the particular theme. For example, a traditional Chinese garden themed event at Yu Gardens, with classical Chinese instrumentalists and entertainment. For a more contemporary or chic feel, the event could be held at the Park Hyatt or a similar high-end location. Another interesting theme is colonial Shanghai, held in a private building in the French Concession with a private dinner, Shanghai jazz and a general feeling of being transported back to the 1930s.
How can Shanghai events also combine neighbouring tourism cities?
In addition to themed dinners, a fun activity would be to hold an Amazing Race-style adventure. This activity would get people to travel around the city and sightsee in an interesting and unique way. It is fun and connects people with more of the “real” Shanghai. This activity could get people out of Shanghai as well, challenging them to travel to a city like Suzhou and get an interesting perspective on the Yangtze River Delta.
Shanghai’s extensive pre-World Expo makeover included a smart portfolio of new hotels. Located across both Puxi and Pudong, these range from sky-high luxury properties to boutique lodgings and renovated heritage stalwarts. Shanghai’s hotel boom isn’t over yet, however. Upcoming hotels by Banyan Tree, Mandarin Oriental, Shangri-La and Jumeirah’s Venu brand debut will add extra high-end room inventory plus meeting and event facilities.
The Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong
The 285-room Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong occupies the top 18 floors of the Shanghai IFC South Tower. Shanghai’s second Ritz-Carlton features three club floors providing access to the 49th-floor club lounge. There is 2,500sqm of meeting and conference space on the third level, including the naturally lit 1,135sqm Grand Ballroom. For “wow factor” alfresco events, the 55th-floor Flair Restaurant and Bar is Shanghai’s highest open-air terrace with stunning views over the city.
The Peninsula Shanghai
Opened in late 2009, the Peninsula Shanghai features 235 rooms plus a luxury shopping mall. The Rose Ballroom seats 450 people, while Sir Elly’s Rooftop Restaurant offers six private rooms on two levels, plus an expansive terrace with magnificent river views. Yi Long Court Cantonese restaurant is decorated like a 1930s Shanghai nobleman’s residence, and Salon de Ning is a stylish update of a 1930s Shanghai nightclub. You can further impress your VIP guests with an airport pick-up in a 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom.
Fairmont Peace Hotel
First opened in 1929 as The Cathay Hotel and later renamed the Peace Hotel, Shanghai’s most storied luxury hotel underwent three years of renovation and reopened in September under the Fairmont brand. Event venues at the 270-room hotel include the legendary Peace Hall ballroom, Dragon Phoenix Chinese Restaurant, and the 10th-floor terrace, which can host 250 guests overlooking the Bund and Huangpu River. The octogenarian jazz band has also returned to entertain guests in the Jazz Bar.
Waldorf-Astoria Shanghai on the Bund
During the 1920s, the Shanghai Club was famed for its Long Bar, claimed as the world’s longest. After a classy makeover, it reopened in September as the Waldorf Astoria Club. The Bund-front Club has 20 opulent suites and is connected by a courtyard to a 251-room hotel tower set to open in early 2011. A second-storey Bund-view ballroom accommodates 200 guests and there will be eight other meeting venues and six restaurants and bars, including the Long Bar with a 110-feet replica of the fabled original.
Swatch Art Peace Hotel
Dating from 1907, the former Palace Hotel (adjacent to, and once part of, the Peace Hotel) is one of the Bund’s oldest surviving buildings. Reopening in phases as the Swatch Art Peace Hotel, the heritage-meets-hip interiors house luxury boutiques, Shook! Restaurant, a contemporary arts centre and VIP suites (slated for early 2011). Function spaces include the wood-clad exhibition gallery, alfresco rooftop terrace (opening Spring 2011) and the Chiang-Soong Room, where the First International Opium Conference was held in 1909.
Langham Shanghai Xintiandi
Opened in October, Shanghai’s second Langham is located at Xintiandi, a popular restaurant, bar and boutique development housed in rebuilt shikumen homes. A short stroll from the designer shopping of Huaihai Road, the striking 24-storey tower features a grand ballroom, eight multifunction meeting rooms, plus 357 guestrooms with impressive views.
Shanghai has two airports: Pudong International Airport for international routes, Hong Kong and Macau; and Hongqiao Airport, mostly for domestic flights, although an increasing number of routes have opened up connecting the airport to East Asian cities, including Seoul, Taipei and Tokyo. Both airports have recently been upgraded.
A pre-arranged visa is required for each visitor entering China through Shanghai. There is no visa-on-arrival service.
Shanghai has a variable climate, ranging from intensely hot and humid (June to August) to sub-zero (December to February). The most temperate months and best times to visit are March to May and September to November.
Putonghua is the official language and Shanghainese, which is quite different from Putonghua, is widely spoken. A varying degree of English is spoken in hotels, tourism and event venues, bars and restaurants.
Shanghai Municipal Tourism Administration Commission