With government will strong after its G20 success, Hangzhou could rise to rival Shanghai as a preferred business events destination.
Hangzhou is sending out a strong message that it is determined to become an even bigger business events destination, having pulled off a successful G20 summit in September last year.
Some observers are even saying that Hangzhou – dubbed Shanghai’s back garden and with its picturesque vistas, tourism attractions and an infrastructure development boom – could rival the glamorous port city that is one position ahead in ICCA’s China ranking. High-speed Rail connects the two cities and travel time is about an hour.
In Hangzhou’s favour is support from the government, which is shifting its focus from tourism to business events. The development of a new CBD, improved international air access, cheaper prices and cleaner air all make the city worth a serious look.
Zhao Hongzhong, vice director, Hangzhou Tourism Commission, said: “We want to create ‘Summit Hangzhou’ to mean a place to hold meetings.”
Hangzhou has obvious strengths in its business events capacity.
Zhao said: “With the Hangzhou International Expo Center (HIEC), we can handle groups of 10,000 people.”
HIEC’s Sky Garden is equipped to host outdoor mega-events, while the four-star, 262-room North Star Hangzhou International Expo Center Hotel within HIEC has five meetings rooms and Chinese and Western restaurants that can each seat 350 people.
When complete this year, the nearby 400,000m2 Hangzhou Olympic Sports Center will boast a 80,000-seat main stadium, a 10,000-seat tennis centre, an aquatic centre, a convention centre, athletic facilities, a retail pavilion, restaurants and a multiplex cinema.
International air access continues to increase, Zhao added. Flights between Hangzhou and Japan, Pattaya and Jakarta have resumed. And in 2016, new flights were launched to link Hangzhou to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sydney, Vancouver, Paris and Bali. Addis Ababa will be added this year and Lisbon and Copenhagen in 2018.
To attract more international association meetings from Europe and Belgium, Hangzhou invested in its own stand at ITBM World in Barcelona for the first time last year.
Jackson Wang, deputy managing director, Hangzhou New China Travel Service, said the stand with five companies was even bigger than Beijing’s, which it used to share exhibition space with.
He added that there was interest from Russia, the US, Singapore, the UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, France and the Netherlands.
“With the flights to Vancouver, we are targeting the US East Coast in 2017 and are looking at using Doha as a transit point,” he shared.
The G20 summit had sparked the creation of new business events products, including Treasure Boat, a Chinese-style vessel built to take G20 leaders on a West Lake cruise, which can now be used for charters for up to 150 people.
The 25-minute Qiantang River light show themed City, Water, Light and Shadow was another G20 project. A total of 700,000 LED lights are used to illuminate more than 30 high-rise buildings along the river.
Even with these developments, Roger Shu, deputy general manager of Hangzhou Convention Exhibition & Travel (HCET), said there was still a lack of hotels near HIEC.
HCET intends to attract more international hotel brands to the city and is constructing a purpose-built conference and exhibition facility.
HCET itself is a new PCO tasked with creating new business events. Shu said: “PCO numbers in Hangzhou are small and one of the things we want to set up this year is a ‘bid factory’ with regional DMCs, hotels and other industry players.”
Looking ahead, Shu, who was formerly MICE manager, Business Events Hangzhou (BEH) and Hangzhou Tourism Promotion Centre, proposed: “The first step is to establish a Conference Ambassador Programme; then, the bid factory can get leads from ICCA’s database, create a taskforce and HCET can partner BEH.
Step two, he added, is for HCET to create new business events for around 2,000 delegates.
“For 2017, HCET will be ‘delegate-focused’ and its immediate job is to help Hangzhou raise service standards by creating a welcome package at railway stations offering a VIP welcome, Chinese-hospitality style,” he said.