Think of South China and the immediate locations that spring to mind for meetings and incentives are tried-and-trusted Hong Kong or up-and-coming Macau. Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Zhuhai, however, are increasingly attractive options for corporate groups as the luxury hotel brands move in. To make the area doubly attractive, there are also several unique incentive options in the South China region, from taking a Formula 3 car for a spin at the Zhuhai International Circuit to embarking on a heritage tour of Guangzhou with Canton historian Jason Wordie.
The Mandarin Oriental and Starwood’s hip W brand both recently chose to open their f irst Mainland China properties in Guangzhou, while Langham Place Guangzhou is preparing to open this September. Scheduled to be up and running by 2015, the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link will cut journey time from Hong Kong to Guangzhou from two hours to 48 minutes. Shenzhen, meanwhile, will be just 36 minutes away from Hong Kong, which is great news for delegates who have business in more than one Pearl River Delta city.
PLAIN SAILING IN SHENZHEN
Shenzhen’s accommodation options are as impressive as Guangzhou, with Ritz-Carlton, Intercontinental, Grand Hyatt and Langham all having established a presence there. The Four Seasons Shenzhen is the latest luxury addition to the city’s portfolio of world-class hotels.
For delegates keen to enjoy the outdoors, Shenzhen Sun Sailing, which offers windsurfing, kayaking and sailing among other water-sport activities, represents an attractive incentive solution. Established by Vancouver’s Mac Sailing in 2010 in Xichong Bay, part of the scenic Longgang district in Eastern Shenzhen, Shenzhen partner Ewing Zhao says sailing is getting more popular in China, particularly down south.
Zhao says that Shenzhen Sun Sailing sees much interest from corporate groups, particularly for employee training and company events. Companies it has worked with include Galaxy Entertainment Group, the real-estate developer China Vanke Co and the Sports Association of Nanshan district, with windsurfing and kayaking currently the most popular activities. Most of its clients come from Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Guangzhou and include a number of foreign companies with a base in Shenzhen or Hong Kong.
Corporate groups can tailor their experience. Zhao says: “Vanke Co has a large number of kayaking fans, so to accommodate this, we hold a Vanke Cup Kayaking Championship tournament during their company anniversary. Winners earn a kayak with their name honoured on the boat, and dinner with corporate chairman and billionaire entrepreneur Wang Shi.”
Zhao adds that there is also a restaurant and bar with space for 200, where guests can refuel after their water-sport activity with a seafood barbecue. He says :“Some delegates end up extending their stay over the weekend and bring their families or friends out to join them.”
Zhao expects to see more corporate groups at Cat Sailing Shenzhen in the future and says: “More and more Chinese companies have realised traditional employee recreation and training programmes are no longer enough. With reasonable financial investment, they can offer a much more attractive programme than ever before. In return, they can achieve better job performance, employee loyalty and customer satisfaction, so it’s a win-win situation for everyone.”
LUXURY AND HERITAGE IN GUANGZHOU
The capital of Guangdong province, Guangzhou has witnessed substantial growth in the last decade and business continues to boom with a GDP growth rate of 14 per cent for the first half of this year. While Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons already have a hotel each here, Mandarin Oriental and W Guangzhou both recently debuted in the city.
Mandarin Oriental Guangzhou general manager Clemens Hoerth says he attended IMEX in Frankfurt last year and was “amazed” by the interest surrounding the hotel. He says: “We have several leads for 2014, including a US-based company that wants to organise seminars and meetings here.” As for what the hotel will offer in terms of incentives, he says: “We are looking to team up with companies offering activities beyond the norm. I’m sure if we find the right location we can offer extraordinary dinners, and perhaps evenings in the [Zaha Hadid-designed] Guangzhou Opera House. There’s also lots of parks in Guangzhou so picnics are another possibility. There’s beautiful stadiums here where you could hold concerts or shows. We just need to convince corporate groups that we can offer these kind of things.”
Ultimately, however, Hoerth feels that it’s important that clients recognise the hotel as a destination. He says: “I just welcomed a client who said he loves [Mandarin Oriental Guangzhou designer] Tony Chi, and that’s why he wanted to try us out.” Hoerth adds it is also considering combining a stay at the Mandarin Guangzhou with its sister property in Sanya for corporates, so groups can head down to China’s premier beach resort on nearby Hainan Island for rest and relaxation after doing business in Guangzhou.
With six studio spaces, a Grand Ballroom and the multifunctional space Verve, W Guangzhou hopes to attract creative brands with its innovative design and playful approach to meetings. The brand’s signature meeting innovation is called Recess and it enables delegates to spend coffee breaks doodling on an etch-a-sketch or figuring out a Rubik’s Cube. The hotel also offers three distinct restaurants including Yan Yu which is led by acclaimed chef Jereme Leung, plus two glamorous bars: Fei Ultralounge and its signature Woo Bar.
Director of sales and marketing Aaron Zhang says: “Though it’s taking some time for group organisers locally and globally to shift their focus from Shanghai and Beijing to Guangzhou, it felt like the right time to enter the city, as we are starting to see younger groups seeking something different and avant-garde from Guangzhou. In addition, business organisers used to doing events in Shanghai and Beijing are increasingly interested to discover untapped areas in southern and central China.”
Those attending the Canton Fair and other events at the Guangzhou International Convention and Exhibition Centre, meanwhile, will find Langham Place Guangzhou an attractive proposition, as it is located next door. Designed by New York architects Yabu Pushelberg, which is famed for commissioning large-scale art installations for its projects, it is scheduled to open in September 2013.
Those looking for a large meeting space can consider the Great Room. At 3,000 sqm, it is almost the size of three swimming pools. The hotel’s general manager Ronnie Cheng says: “In Guangzhou, we noticed that there is demand for huge spaces with grand décor and five-star service within the event market, especially with the expansion of exhibition business in the Pazhou area, which is why we decided to build such a big meeting space.”
In addition to the Great Room, there is a smaller ballroom of 800 sqm and five breakout rooms. For food and beverages, delegates can dine at Ming Court, a sister restaurant to the brand’s two-star Michelin Ming Court that can be found in Langham Place Hong Kong. Meanwhile, an outdoor barbecue restaurant may be just the ticket for some team building over dinner.
While Guangzhou’s new luxury hotel additions offer even greater choice for meeting space and organising incentives, Hong Kong delegates looking to explore Guangzhou’s heritage can also consider booking a two-night “Historic Canton” stopover, complete with historian Jason Wordie as a guide. The trip takes in the old district of Shameen (Shamian), the Canton Bund that stretches along the Pearl River and the Five Genies Temple, among other attractions. Previous attendees who have enjoyed Wordie’s tour include the Royal Bank of Scotland, the American Institute of Architects and Goldman Sachs.
“Those who have lived in Hong Kong for a year or so have seen the cosmopolitan world city stuff, and are often keen to see some heritage, and Guangzhou is great for that, as Shameen represents some very intelligent conservation work,” says Wordie, adding that he has seen a “significant increase” of interest from corporate groups of late. His tours – which depart from April until October and accommodate groups of up to 18 people – are usually full.
The historian observes that people are often surprised by the city, saying: “They are generally taken aback, and don’t realise quite how much there is to see. Some people have said, ‘We could have been here for a week and done something different every day’.” Wordie also delivers historical lectures for corporate groups based in Hong Kong, with talks on everything from the history of Canton to Chinese women’s role in society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Like the tours, the lectures are also proving to be more and more popular.
RACING AND RELAXING IN ZHUHAI
Zhuhai does not yet boast the kind of luxury accommodation and lavish meeting spaces that are prevalent in Guangzhou and Shenzhen, although a Sheraton Zhuhai is scheduled to open there in January 2015. For now, staying over in Macau – only five minutes away on the ferry – is the best option for corporate groups.
Those looking for scenic incentives should consider Zhuhai’s long coastline, which is dotted with more than 140 islands. These include Dong’ao Island, a 45-minute ferry ride from Zhuhai, which boasts diving facilities and a pleasant beach. Other island options include Qi’ao, an environmental preservation zone which is approximately 20 minutes from downtown Zhuhai.
The most exhilarating incentive is undoubtedly the Zhuhai International Circuit, where delegates can take a spin in a Formula 3 racing car, touring car or motorcycle. Race Promotions Officer Allan Ng says it also offers kart racing, and with a kart track on site it can organise a full race with timed results. The circuit also offers guests the chance for people to drive their own cars at the track.
For car manufacturers and importers, the track is the perfect place to launch new models. It is also ideal for companies looking to organise high speed incentives. Ng says: “High-end retail and financial companies also rent the track and the services of a professional racing academy to organise a track event for their clients.” Outlining a typical incentive activity, he elaborates: “We can arrange a corporate track day using race-prepared cars and professional instructors, with food and beverages from Sheraton Zhongshan served in a VIP room.”
Corporate groups can tailor their experience according to their needs, and the circuit can provide coaches to pick up guests in Macau – although Ng recommends limiting the day to no more than 25 guests so that everyone will be kept relatively busy. As for feedback, Ng says: “Some of our guests get out of the race cars and are too excited to say anything, and are generally very happy for the opportunity to drive on a proper race track.”
Langham Place Guangzhou: guangzhou.langhamplacehotels.com
Mandarin Oriental Guangzhou: mandarinoriental.com.hk/guangzhou
Shenzhen Sun Sailing: macsailing.com/shenzhen-sun-sailing
W Guangzhou: starwoodhotels.com/whotels
Zhuhai International Circuit: zic.com.cn