Shenzhen a cheaper alternative
Shenzhen is emerging as a popular location for conferences and exhibitions, due to its combination of low prices and increasingly better convention and hotel facilities.
The opening of the Shenzhen Convention and Exhibition Centre in 2004 put the border city on the map for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions. The centre was built at a cost of 3.2 billion yuan and has a total floor area of 220,000 square metres.
It recently hosted world-class events such as the FDI (Federation Dentaire Internationale, or World Dental Federation) Annual World Dental Congress and the China High-Tech Fair.
The dental congress attracted nearly 10,000 participants and included a keynote speech by Chinese Vice-Premier Wu Yi, while the China High-Tech Fair, a national-level trade event to help foster the mainland's technology-intensive products, attracted 612,000 visitors in its six-day run. Both events were held in the second half of last year.
Hotelier David Markham said the success of these high-profile events would undoubtedly help the city attract other big events.
'Shenzhen is significantly cheaper [than Hong Kong],' said Mr Markham, who is the regional general manager of the Crowne Plaza Hotel Shenzhen and its sister property, the new InterContinental Shenzhen, which are both near the Window of The World theme park.
'It is not that Shenzhen is becoming a competitor of Hong Kong - they actually complement each other pretty well now - it has become an alternative, a place where people can have events at 50 per cent of the cost. Definitely in hotels and restaurants there is better value.'
According to the Shenzhen Exhibition Industry Association, the number of events held in the city grew from 52 eight years ago to more than 200 last year.
Conferences and meetings generated revenue of 4billion yuan in 2005 and the association expected revenue would grow 15 per cent to 4.6 billion yuan in 2006.
Despite the growth, Shenzhen is grappling with cutthroat competition from other exhibition business in Guangdong. Dongguan, just one hour's drive away, and Guangzhou have tried to lure away business.
The competition is so fierce that Shenzhen and Dongguan hold rival furniture shows that end up cutting into each other's business. If the two were to find some way to join forces, they have the potential to create the world's largest furniture show.
It was this overlapping of facilities and functions that prompted Qin Qunli, deputy director of the Shenzhen Development and Reform Bureau, to warn some years ago that it could cause the industry to collapse.
'Without efficient co-ordination, the cities along the Pearl River will spend an additional five to 10 years before the exhibition industry takes off,' he told the Market Daily, a subsidiary newspaper of People's Daily.
However, things look increasingly good for Shenzhen at present.
Last year's High-Tech Fair generated US$13.55billion in deals during its run, up 27 per cent from a year earlier.
The fair, which will be staged again in October, has catapulted Shenzhen into international prominence, building its reputation as southern China's boomtown for technology.
The event, along with the technology-laden second board on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, provides the city, one of the country's four special economic zones, with a new growth engine.
It is this potential for further growth that has a host of five-star hotel brands building in the city. Mr Markham said The Ritz Carlton, Grand Hyatt, JW Marriott, Sheraton and a second Shangri-La were all under construction.
The InterContinental Shenzhen opened last month at a cost of more than 600million yuan and is very conducive to incentive travel. Built on a 100,000-square-metre plot of land, the 549-room hotel has a 2,000-square-metre outdoor pool with sandy beach, an indoor pool and tennis courts, among other facilities.
It also has the city's biggest ballroom, at 1,560 square metres, and a 320-square-metre mini ballroom.
'You can see that a city has matured once it starts getting brands like InterContinental, The Ritz Carlton and Grand Hyatt coming in,' Mr Markham said.
'We are finding with the InterContinental we can now aggressively go after those people who would not have stayed so long in Shenzhen previously.
'Individual business travellers are now staying longer in the mainland and then going across to Hong Kong for their meetings. It used to be the reverse.
'The InterContinental in Shenzhen is about US$200 a night, while in Hong Kong it could be US$400 or US$500.'
The Crowne Plaza, which is positioned as a place for small to medium-sized meetings, recently introduced its 'Meeting Success Guarantee'.
The branded product guarantees a response time of two hours to any inquiry for meetings and events.
Mr Markham, who has lived in Shenyang, Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan over the past 10 years, said Shenzhen was the best place he had lived in the mainland, citing its proximity to Hong Kong, convenience and ideal climate.
'One of the attractions of Shenzhen, and it really is a selling tool, is the golf component,' Mr Markham said.
'Having places like Mission Hills and about 25 courses within an hour of the city is a big draw.'
The number of visitors at the China High-Tech Fair, a national-level trade event to help foster the mainland's technology-intensive products, in its six-day run: 612,000