The emerging meeting, incentive, convention and exhibition (MICE) industry in China is proving its ability to bring in more quality business travellers. The events industry has been strengthening in the mainland in recent years as the economy improves following its entry into the World Trade Organisation in 2001. Based on the International Congress and Convention Association 2006 study on international meetings, China was 14th in country ranking with 153 events. In city ranking, Beijing and Shanghai were 13th (65 meetings) and 31st (39 meetings) respectively. Other hotspots include Guangzhou and Shenzhen because of their well-established hotels and large-scale exhibition centres. Shanghai has recorded positive growth every year for exhibitions. Statistics from the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade show that 423 exhibitions were held in seven major exhibition centres last year. There are 40 five-star hotels in Shanghai and hotels in the pipeline for this year include the Swissotel, Jumeirah and Conrad. Michelle Denise Wan, director of communications of The Portman Ritz-Carlton, said that finding sufficient meeting space was always an issue due to increasing requests for bigger group meetings. She said: 'However, our hotel's meeting facilities are complemented by the Shanghai Exhibition Centre across the road. Its facilities include more than 18,000 square metres of exhibition space comprising 42 breakout rooms, two ballrooms and a 500-seat auditorium. 'The city is becoming expensive as the infrastructure and services are improving and gearing up for the 2010 World Expo.' A five-star hotel such as Portman Ritz-Carlton has a published rate for a deluxe room of 2,400 yuan. Guangzhou is way ahead of Shenzhen in MICE development, but not as competitive as Shanghai, which has accessibility and availability of versatile attractions such as museums, ancient riverside towns and the Bund. The biggest attractions of Guangdong and Shenzhen are their hotel rates, with the cost of holding events in both cities 40 to 50 per cent less than in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Guangdong has long served as South China's economic hub for international trade fairs, especially the twice-yearly Canton Trade Fair in April and October, but do not count on cheap hotels during these events. There is now a lot of construction as the city prepares for the 16th Asian Games in 2010. The city's sports facilities will be given a complete facelift and the Guangzhou Municipal government has set aside 200 billion yuan to improve venues and urban infrastructure generally, though it already operates a busy underground railway system. A major challenge for events is that many people do not consider Guangzhou an attractive destination, even if they are interested in Guangzhou as a city. Nevertheless, with its riverside setting and historic districts such as Five Rams Park, its sightseeing spots are different from those of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Hotels are mostly used for events-related traffic and business meetings. Traditional players such as the 828-room Garden Hotel Guangzhou handle the majority of MICE traffic among medium-size groups. Despite this business accounting for only 7 per cent of its room revenue last year, the average rate for MICE business showed an increase of 11per cent over 2006. Last year, the 704-room Shangri-La Hotel, Guangzhou, opened as the only property next to the new Guangzhou International Convention and Exhibition Centre at Pazhou. It is the biggest MICE hotel in Guangdong. General manager Reto Klauser said: 'On average, the Guangzhou hotel industry had about 60 per cent occupancy last year. In the past two years we have seen more international events, such as the Dental Expo, Water China and the upcoming China International Furniture Fair, which is expected to attract more than 50,000 visitors. When phases two and three of Guangzhou's convention centre are completed later this year, the city is expecting to host more large-scale events.' Mr Klauser is enthusiastic about the attractions of Guangzhou. 'The MICE world is always looking for new destinations and new experiences. I believe Guangzhou is rapidly becoming an attractive and alternative destination in the region and offering products, services and experiences suitable for the local and international MICE market.' The 449-room Westin Guangzhou, also opened last year, has seen an even spread from higher-end local companies and multinationals throughout the various MICE components. Joshua Lee, director of sales and marketing, said: 'The spread of MICE business is very focused on two key months throughout the year - April and October for the two Canton Trade Fairs.' Next month the 376-room Grand Hyatt will join the club and boost the city's luxury hotel portfolio. It is in the newly created Zhujiang (Pearl River) New City district, which is being developed as another central business district that will be home to an opera house, library, museums and international hotel brands. Paul Hugentobler, general manager of Grand Hyatt, said: 'It is practical and attractive to have MICE events in Guangzhou where groups can enjoy significant savings. For instance, the city's average rate for this year is about 1,200 yuan. 'We are next to one of the city's natural treasures, the Central Park, and our view over the park will be preserved because no further development is allowed.' The Ritz-Carlton recently opened its doors and more brands are set to come. They include Park Hyatt, Four Seasons, Sheraton and W Hotel in 2010-11. Shenzhen, the first special economic zone, is the 'miracle city' of China. Like Guangzhou, it has an underground railway system to avoid the inevitable traffic jams. And it now serves as a national base for the mainland's burgeoning electronic information industry. MICE in Shenzhen may still be an infant industry but it is picking up. The Crowne Plaza Shenzhen is maintaining its MICE business at the same level as last year despite an increase of 6,000 square metres in meeting space in the Shenzhen market. David Markham, regional general manager, said: 'As part of Shenzhen's plans to host Universiade 2011, 300,000 square metres of land has been earmarked for sports venues and associated facilities. Also, the underground railway is being expanded to cope with greater passenger demand. By 2010, all major transport points such as bus stations, railway stations and ports bringing visitors from Hong Kong will be connected to the rail system.' Francis Lee, director of marketing, Crowne Plaza Hotel & Suites Landmark Shenzhen, said. 'We are seeing an increase in MICE demand as multinational and international companies continue to increase investment in the city and set up new offices. 'MICE business in Shenzhen will increase this year, mainly due to the city's fast growing economy, big events such as the 2010 University Games and improved infrastructure. Escalating costs in Beijing and Shanghai mean we anticipate that some organisations will move their MICE activities to Shenzhen.' Futian, developing to the west of Shenzhen's main border crossing point of Lo Wu, has grown into a new business district for culture, exhibitions, commerce and tourism. These make it suitable for meetings, conventions and leisure activities. It will become the latest 'battlefield' when more international-brand hotels open in the next few months. Also opening this year will be the 548-room Futian Shangri-La and the 245-room Ritz-Carlton, Shenzhen. Both will be close to the Shenzhen Convention and Exhibition Centre, which is in Futian.