It may have spearheaded China's economic opening more than 25 years ago and it may still be booming, but Guangzhou has an image problem. Despite phenomenal success the city has been largely ignored by foreign investors, who have instead been lured to the bright lights of showy Shanghai. But things are changing. Next month, a group of municipal officials and senior editors will visit Washington in an attempt to promote a city, whose international reputation falls far too short of its economic progress. 'Guangzhou is an open city but people overseas don't know much about it, so we are going there to promote Guangzhou,' said a Guangzhou news bureau spokeswoman. The city is so little known in the west that when 25 Asia-Pacific American Chambers of Commerce representing 34,000 US-invested companies met here last month, the host had to tell them Guangzhou was also Canton. 'Everybody knows where Canton is. Some people are confused as to where Guangzhou is, so it helps [to put Canton in parentheses after Guangzhou],' says Harley Seyedin, president of American Chamber of Commerce, Guangdong. 'We've had a discussion and we found that Beijing and Shanghai are strong brand names but Guangzhou is a well-kept secret. 'Guangzhou is beautiful. It's as modern as any city and offers more opportunities than any other area in China. It's just that we always have to explain to people where it is.' Mr Seyedin believes that if Guangzhou reverted to its old name, it would have instant branding, while Guangzhou has to be located as a city near Hong Kong. Locals, without exception, do not see a problem. 'Canton was a word used during the colonial period,' says Liang Yan, media planning manager of Beijing TV in Guangzhou. Retiree He Zhijian is baffled by the word Canton. 'Never heard of it and I am a lao Guangzhou (old Guangzhou hand).' The city government conducted a survey last year to find out if there was an image problem and concluded 'Guangzhou is more influential than Canton', the spokeswoman said. Canton represented an era when people wore long robes and pigtails while Guangzhou was a booming metropolis integrating with the world and epitomised by the 'beautiful' Pearl River and the 'bustling' Canton Fair and an 'energetic' people. The city became known as Guangzhou in 1981 when the International Organisation for Standardisation adopted the pinyin system of rendering names of mainland places. A French executive said: 'It's a big issue. I feel that if the government makes a link between Guangzhou and Canton, it would help promote Guangzhou.' But given that Guangzhou has always been Canton to the French, Italians, Germans and Spanish, it may require more than a name change to unlock the secret of Guangzhou's prosperity. The government has to build Guangzhou as a brand name, which means there has to be a lot of the bragging that Shanghai does so naturally but which goes against Cantonese nature.