GLOBAL ambitions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 April, 2012, 12:00am


It may have some of the best-preserved colonial buildings in China, but Shanghai's focus is on the future, not the past, an attitude reflected in its ever-changing skyline and frantic pace.

The jewel in its commercial crown, Pudong, home to hi-tech factories, soaring financial towers and world-class hotels, was mostly farmland and derelict buildings just over two decades ago. Shanghai's aspirations to become a major world city are clear: the World Expo two years ago was merely a milestone.

'Shanghai remains one of the most exciting cities in the world,' says Daniel Aylmer, general manager of Le Royal Meridien Shanghai and East China managing director for Starwood Hotels and Resorts.

'The global attention and exposure from the World Expo has further put Shanghai on the map as a premier meetings and incentives destination that knows how to handle the world's biggest events.

'A large number of top international hotel brands have claimed their presence in Shanghai, bringing with them top-class management expertise, business models and service catering to the meetings and incentives industry.'

The city wants to expand its convention space, with plans for more international hotels in the pipeline. Already, it has a dazzling collection of luxury options: two of the world's highest hotels, the Grand Hyatt and Park Hyatt, are located in Pudong, each offering magnificent views over the Huangpu River towards the famous Bund promenade.

A major restoration programme has seen the walkway, and the elegant British-style stone buildings that flank it, spruced up. Another restored area, Xintiandi, is the main nightlife zone, generally described as the local version of Lan Kwai Fong.

'It is exciting that that more and more buildings on the Bund are being refurbished and the area looks magnificent,' says Andreas Trauttmansdorff, general manager of the Westin Bund Center.

'These buildings are teeming with entertainment venues, art galleries and restaurants, not to mention the unmatched night view. The Bund side is predominantly silver and gold, while the Pudong waterfront looks a little like something from the future. Shopping is world class, transport is convenient and cheap, and there is something for everyone.'

The Bund has even played host to shows involving some of the fashion world's major players. French brand Dior held a catwalk event in a specially erected Bund marquee, which saw the debut of a Shanghai-inspired movie to plug the company's wares, directed by Hollywood auteur David Lynch and starring Academy Award-winning French actress Marion Cotillard. Rival brand Chanel also ventured into celluloid, with German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld unveiling Paris-Shanghai: A Fantasy, which imagines what impressions the brand's founder, Coco Chanel, would have taken away from a visit to the city.

During Shanghai's previous spell in the international spotlight, the 1920s and 1930s, the place to stay was the Cathay Hotel, later known as the Peace Hotel, and now reopened as the Fairmont Peace Hotel. It took three years and HK$500 million to bring the grand building back to tip-top condition. The 270 rooms have been outfitted to the ultra-luxurious standards modern-day business and leisure travellers expect, but many traditional elements remain, including the famous jazz bar.

Other grand buildings nearby, including Three on the Bund, have been converted into lifestyle complexes that house restaurants, wine bars, boutiques and spas. The city's relatively compact layout - especially when compared with sprawling Beijing - means it is fairly easy to get around, using cheap and readily available taxis.

'It is fast-paced, fun-loving, cultural, historical, sometimes noisy and open. If you have never visited, you have a major gap in your travels and, if you have been here before, you know that any amount of visits will never be enough, Trauttmansdorff says. 'I love the people in Shanghai; they are friendly and open. Naturally, they will try to make a living like in any other city of the world and try to sell you goods or services. Meet them with a sense of humour and you will receive the same back.'


A number of professionals predict a hi-tech future for the serviced apartment sector in Shanghai, reflecting the city's forward-looking attitude and willingness to embrace new technology.

These professionals say that with a modern transport network and a cosmopolitan culture, Shanghai can be the heart and soul of the service apartment industry on the mainland.

The market is expected to evolve into a technologically demanding industry. With the constant advancement of technology, there will be more possibilities and breakthroughs in the area of Wi-fi and 3D video conferencing, which would be available in service apartments.

The city authorities have signalled their intention to expand facilities for foreign visitors - key buildings on the World Expo site are now available for the staging of major events or conferences, that will help bring in more expats to the city.

In addition to the big-brand hotels, Shanghai also has a significant collection of boutique service apartments, located in historic buildings.

A number of top brands, such as Shama, are located in the top business districts of the city. These districts include Xiantandi, Xuhui, Huangpu, and Pudong, and they are within easy access from the international airport.

But there is nothing opaque about the overall ambition of this vibrant city. It wants to grow fast, so that it can take its place as one of the top destinations in the world-city league.


History lesson

Just around the corner from the Xiantiandi nightlife zone is a museum on the very site where the Communist Party of China had its first meeting, with Mao Zedong among them. The museum has a fascinating collection of artefacts from pre-revolutionary Shanghai, period photographs and tableaus with life-size figures where the Great Helmsman looms large.

River cruise

Shanghai is a short distance from the Yangtze River. Take a leisurely cruise down the Huangpu River to the Yangtze estuary.

River towns

Suzhou is the largest and best known. 'My personal favourite is Wuzhen,' says Andreas Trauttmansdorff, general manager of the Westin Bund Center.

Underwater weirdness

The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel lets passengers board a shuttle train for the cross-river journey. It has flashing lights and bizarre fantasy figures, a kind of psychedelic Disney ride.

Showcasing art

The main art district is on Moganshan Road, where dilapidated factories and warehouses have been gentrified.

The French Concession

The marvellous French-style mansions are fast disappearing, but some have been transformed into restaurants, bars and boutiques.