Expo raises great expectations

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 September, 2010, 12:00am

Big events can lift a country as a delegate destination to new heights - as the 2008 Beijing Olympics showed. Now, the mainland is drawing on the six-month World Expo 2010 in Shanghai to raise that profile even higher.

One of the strategies being adopted is to treat the expo as the voice of tourism and build a new image for Shanghai. 'The event has given birth to new Mice sites, as well as luxury hotels such as Peace Hotel by Fairmont, and the makeover of our transportation infrastructure,' says Patrick Chen Ping, deputy director of Shanghai Municipal Tourism Administration's international tourism promotion department. 'This has helped capture global attention to our new development here.' Because of the expo, Chen says many corporate events, incentives and meetings groups flocked to Shanghai with companies flying staff from as far away as Brazil to visit national pavilions.

The city's efforts have paid dividends. 'Last May, we won an International Congress and Convention Association meeting to be held in November 2013,' Chen says. 'Incentive wise, the potential keeps growing with improved infrastructure, and an 8,000-person group from Amway Japan is confirmed for the end of 2011.'

The spin-offs from the expo for incentive trips and business meetings has also impressed corporate travel management company Hogg Robinson Group. 'Most of our corporate clients around the world are organising more activities during the period,' says James Stevenson, executive vice-president for Asia-Pacific. 'Corporates are utilising Shanghai as the city to hold many of their activities, some of which are held in the pavilions of the expo. Corporates also work with the organisers of the Shanghai World Expo to facilitate special entry and overcome crowd issues.'

Statistics from the Shanghai Municipal Tourism Administration indicate a 61.2 per cent increase in travellers to Shanghai in June this year, with average room occupancy at 85.23 per cent - an increase of 26.46 per cent.

'With the proximity of Beijing to Shanghai, there is a spillover from the World Expo as visitors to Shanghai are also interested to visit the capital city of China,' Stevenson says. 'This is especially so for long-haul travellers from the United States and Britain who tend to visit multiple cities in China.'

Hogg Robinson has seen travel volume returning to the pre-recession level of 2008. 'Business travel volume has experienced a steep improvement in the first half of 2010. We also predict a gentler improvement in the third quarter,' Stevenson says.

With the expo ending next month, there is concern about a draining post-expo effect. 'We will not know until closer to the closing date,' says Ritz-Carlton Shanghai Pudong general manager Rainer Burkle. 'During the expo, some companies held back meetings and conventions in Shanghai due to the already high business levels. Still, we received additional delegations from different countries incorporating chief operating officers from companies who like to do business in China ... and through companies that are sponsors or otherwise affiliated with the expo.'

Jonathan Kao See-wai, general manager for Greater China business travel at Shanghai Four Seas Travel, has no doubts about a post-expo effect. 'As a lot of five-star hotels were built here, there will most likely be an oversupply.

'However, I do not believe it will be as serious as Beijing after the Olympics, as Shanghai's multinational enterprises are expanding and growing in number and will be able to absorb some of the supply. I think it will be good with the different choices of venue and flexibility in pricing.'

Companies with access to bigger budgets seized the opportunity to stage their events at the expo, while others looked elsewhere. 'I believe most of the large-scale convention and exhibition [organisers] avoid the crowds and the high price tag,' Kao says. 'This diverted mainly meetings traffic to Beijing primarily and some second-tier cities.'

Several expo facilities will be turned into permanent event space.

Chen says: 'The World Expo Centre will be converted to a convention centre for forums and meetings with a capacity for 6,000 to 7,000 people. The Performance Centre in a UFO shape will then become an events venue for entertainment with 18,000 seats.'

Travel industry executives, such as Kao, welcome the move. 'Other than the new five-star hotels, there are not that many new venues. I believe the reason is that Shanghai, like Hong Kong, is running out of space in the city centre area or that the price of real estate is going up. These new event spaces will definitely be good for the future of Mice in Shanghai as they give more alternatives to event planners when choosing Shanghai as a destination,' he says.