To find out why Shanghai today is generating so much interest as a business events destination, micenet AUSTRALIA accompanied a group of PCOs on a recent educational. By Rob Davies

Hosted by the Shanghai Municipal Tourism Administration and led by its representative in Australia, Mike Smith, of World Trade Travel, the tour provided a mix of venue exploration and options for group activities.

“China is where everything is happening right now,” says longtime China resident Regina Lourenco, area director of sales & marketing, East China, for Starwood Hotels and Resorts.

Over a delectable Italian meal at Le Royal Meridien Shanghai’s Favola Restaurant, Regina assured members of the famil group that, in this city, anything is possible.

“But there are so many things to do in Shanghai, where do you start?”

As luck would have it, deputy general manager of the Shanghai International Conference Management Organization, James Zheng is well placed to answer this question. At the Westin Bund Center, Shanghai – the famil group’s base during its visit to Shanghai – James provided a comprehensive briefing, listing several positives, including: convenient location, efficient transportation, abundant tourism resources, diverse event venues, wide choice of accommodation, and the city’s rich experience in hosting large-scale events.

Location and transportation

Situated right in the middle of the China coast, Shanghai has long been a trading port and gateway to China. And, after the British established their settlement there in the nineteenth century, the port became a magnet to merchants and adventurers from around the globe.

Today, a 10 hour direct flight on Qantas delivers travellers from Sydney to Shanghai Pudong International Airport. From there, the city centre can be reached by shuttle bus, by taxi (about A$30), or by metro subway (A$1).  But thrillseekers and the time-poor choose Maglev (A$10) to travel the 30-kilometre distance in just 10 minutes. With a top speed of 431kph, Maglev is the fastest train in the world.

All street signs are in English as well as Chinese and finding one’s way about the city is easy. The subway and local buses are efficient and cabs very cheap, though delays can be experienced at peak times. Exploring on foot is recommended, but keep an eye out for electric-powered bikes and scooters on the footpaths – you can’t hear them coming.

By express train, Beijing is only five hours away, Hangzhou one hour and Suzhou just half an hour. Or take flights to other cities in China from Hongqiao – Shanghai’s older airport – which also handles aircraft connecting with international destinations in the north Asia region.

Diversity of event venues

From old warehouses on the river to former kung-fu schools, there are new and unusual venues opening up all the time, says Regina Lourenco, suggesting that unique experiences rather than ‘cookie-cutter’ events can be readily designed in Shanghai.

Two outstanding historic sites inspected by the group are already providing spectacular backdrops for special events:

The date of its construction celebrated in its name, 1933 Shanghai was built as a slaughterhouse. Today this stunning Art Deco concrete structure with its myriad columns, spiral staircases, open walkways, ramps and bridges, hosts fashion shows, product launches and other big-name-brand events. The fourth-floor Air Stage, eight metres below a circular dome, has a see-through reinforced-glass floor – a breathtaking space.

Shanghai’s Power Station of Art is a former power plant in Pudong, built on the banks of the Huangpu in 1897. A chimney now bearing a huge thermometer towers over this impressive industrial building, which opened in 2012 as the first public museum of contemporary art in mainland China. Its vast exhibition area covers 15,000 square metres – 12 halls over seven floors – and an open-air decked rooftop overlooking the former World Expo 2010 site and the river.

Visible from the Power Station of Art are newer repurposed World Expo buildings: the Mercedes-Benz Arena and the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition and Convention Center. And even more venues will soon be adding to the city’s capacity, including the Shanghai Hongqiao National Convention and Exhibition Center, due for completion in 2015.

From budget to five-star

Shanghai has more than 100,000 hotel rooms, says James Zheng, with the newer five-star variety typically located on the upper floors of high-rise buildings. The Park Hyatt Shanghai, for example, offers 174 rooms on floors 79 to 93. Then there’s the iconic Fairmont Peace Hotel across the river on the Bund. This Art Deco gem, built by Sir Victor Sassoon, opened originally as the Cathay Hotel in 1929. Step into the foyer, as all newcomers to Shanghai should, and savour the atmosphere of the city’s glamorous past.

Not all delegates coming to Shanghai can afford to stay in five-star hotels, of course, and there are rooms to suit every budget, says James.

“We have four-star hotels and a range of budget hotels as well. The Jin Jiang Hotel, for example, is located in the city centre and is very affordable.”

Out and about

The old and the new are everywhere in Shanghai. A ramble along the Bund reveals little about what’s behind the façade of those well-preserved buildings from the city’s past. It’s easy to spend hours admiring the exteriors but it’s also well worth exploring within. Visitors especially should not miss seeing the ceiling mosaics and the elegant marble interior (no photographs permitted) of the former Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation building, now the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank.

And then there’s the food. The group was treated to some exotic dishes at Lost Heaven (cuisine from Yunnan Province), and sampled delectable local fare at Shanghai Min and Shanghai Tang. Sublime!

The PCO verdict

So how does Shanghai measure up? Just before boarding the Qantas flight home, members of the famil group shared their impressions with micenet AUSTRALIA.

Specialising in the association market, DC Conferences is accustomed to organising events on limited budgets and mostly in cities around Australia. As airfares become more affordable, however, clients are looking to Asia with growing interest, says managing director Dianna Crebbin. And Shanghai, she sees as an exciting possibility for future association events.