Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Singapore: Asia's Fantastic Four for Trade Shows

SUCCESSFUL MEETINGS November 2006 As the economies of Asia heat up, its top cities for improved trade-show and meetings business have also emerged. These are-in order of buzz-Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

"Hong Kong is quite mature as a market in the cycle of exhibitions," says Wilbert Heijmans, a Shanghai-based director of VNU Exhibitions Asia. "Shanghai is providing quite a lot of competition, as is Beijing, which is still developing."

The biggest news out of Shanghai, according to Heijmans, is the Shanghai New International Expo Center in Pudong, which has been adding two new halls every two years since opening in 2001; it is slated to have 17 halls ultimately, making it the biggest such facility in the Asia-Pacific region; it now has nine halls. Heijmans calls Pudong's center "very convenient," in part because it is pillar-free and all facilities are on one floor.

Shanghai is also home to top-flight hotels that cater to the meetings market; a number of them have set up a website, www.cometoshanghai.com, for data on properties citywide. These include the Shangri-La in Pudong, whose new, state-of-the-art executive wing tower contains 375 business-class rooms, its own health club, a luxury spa, a huge selection of restaurants serving a variety of cuisines, and seven function spaces. The Grand Hyatt, also in Pudong, is equally impressive, with another assortment of gourmet restaurants, the highest bar in the city, an excellent executive floor, and 10 meeting rooms and ballrooms. The Four Seasons, on the other side of the Huangpu Jiang River, has a grand ballroom and six VIP meeting rooms.

While Shanghai leads with new facilities, planners involved with meetings or conferences in the telecommunications, aerospace, travel, and related industries might find the Chinese capital of Beijing more attractive because "the role of the government is so big there," says Heijmans. Ideal for business functions in Beijing is the "residence" at the Grand Hyatt, a new, almost 12,500-square-foot space that can be divided up into three meeting rooms. It has two showcase coffee bars, a lounge area, and private office; the hotel's meeting concierge and conventions butler are available on standby, as needed. The spectacular Peninsula Suite at the Peninsula Palace can be rented out for corporate events, and includes the services of a page at a private elevator, pianist, florist, and use of the hotel's Rolls-Royce for guests of honor.

Heijmans notes that Beijing is cheaper than Shanghai-which itself is less expensive than Hong Kong, where convention facility, meeting collateral, and hotel prices, he says, are 30 percent higher. Even so, construction continues unabated in Hong Kong, where the new Asia World-Expo exhibition center opened near Hong Kong International Airport last December. Containing over 700,000 square feet-including 500,000 contiguous square feet of exhibition space-the facility also boasts an arena that can seat up to 13,500. The Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center in the Wanchai business district is undergoing an expansion slated to be complete in 2009; this offers more small and medium-size meeting rooms than Asia World-Expo.

According to James LaValle, manager of conventions, exhibitions, and corporate events in the U.S. for the Hong Kong Tourism Board, the city has seen a 30-percent increase in the number of hotel rooms since 2004. Among the best new function spaces is the new Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong's ballroom, the only one in the city with floor-to-ceiling windows that provide a harbor view. The legendary Mandarin Oriental has undergone a $140-million renovation and reopened in September, while the Peninsula has a grand new spa run by ESPA, offering relaxation for senior corporate executives or members of incentive groups.

Singapore, the gateway to southeast Asia's booming manufacturing industries, is hungry for meetings and is adopting aggressive strategies to gain market share. Kershing Goh, New York-based area director of the Singapore Tourism Board, say her organization has adopted a new strategy, and is developing events in industries where Singapore is strongest, i.e., banking and finance, biomedicine, the environment, and water management resources. It is spending $100 million to underwrite a new global promotional campaign to publicize these efforts. There are also several new projects on the horizon, including two resorts with casinos, at Sentosa Resort island and Marina Bay; both are slated to open in 2009, with convention venues, entertainment facilities, restaurants, theaters, themed attractions, and retail outlets.