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City exhibits industry strength

NO stranger to playing host to large-scale events, Hangzhou has become the perfect platform for the exhibition industry in China. Michelle Zhang finds out how the local government is making the most of the city's presence on the international stage.

Hangzhou, best known for its willow-fringed West Lake, historic temples and terraced tea plantations, is forging ahead in full swing to transform itself into an international conference base and a major exhibition destination.

Thanks to its abundant tourism resources, rich cultural heritage, first-class infrastructure and quality services, the capital city of Zhejiang Province has great potential to become one of the best MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) cities in China, if not the world.

Hangzhou is known as the birthplace of China's modern convention and exhibition industry. In 1929, the first West Lake Expo was held in the beautiful lakeside city and lasted for 137 days. The grand fair enjoyed the same fame as the Chicago Expo in 1893, the Paris Expo in 1900 and the Philadelphia Expo in 1927 as an international-standard celebration of culture, technology and economic development, attracting more than 20 million viewers from around the world at that time.

Last month, the New York Times listed Hangzhou as one of the world's 41 most travel-worthy cities, alongside Milan, London and Antwerp, Belgium.

Hangzhou was selected not only for its poetic natural scenery, but also for the city's rapidly growing number of world-class luxury hotels, including Shangri-La, Grand Hyatt, Banyan Tree, Amanfayun resort and most recently, the Four Seasons.

"Hangzhou hotels feature top facilities and decent conference rooms, which makes it an ideal destination not only for tourists, but also for conventions and exhibitions," says Guo Mu, director of Zhejiang International Convention and Exhibition Association.

According to a recent report by the Hangzhou Office of Convention and Exhibition Industry, a total of 8,120 conventions, including 453 international-scale events, were held in Hangzhou in 2010, generating a revenue of 276.64 million yuan (US$42.56 million).

Meanwhile, Guo points out that with the opening of the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Exhibition City this year, Hangzhou will soon become a "second-tier exhibition city" which is defined by an annual exhibition area of more than 2 million square meters.

Hangzhou currently boasts five major exhibition centers, such as Zhejiang World Trade Exhibition Center, Hangzhou Peace International Convention and Exhibition Center and Hangzhou Haiwaihai International Convention and Exhibition Center. More than 150 exhibitions, covering an overall exhibition area of 1.68 million square meters, were held in these facilities last year.

The annual West Lake Expo, relaunched by the Hangzhou government in 2000, has become a "golden name card" for the city, says Shi Yongsheng, deputy director of the Hangzhou Office of Convention and Exhibition Industry.

According to him, the 12th West Lake Expo last year featured more than 130 conferences, exhibitions and festivals, with a total trading revenue of 16.21 billion yuan.

This year's West Lake Expo will merge together with the second Hangzhou World Leisure Expo, a grand fair co-organized every five years by the Hangzhou government and the World Leisure Organization. The two-month event will be launched on September 17.

More large-scale events will be held in Hangzhou this year, including the 2011 China International Cartoon and Animation Festival to be held in April and the 2011 Hangzhou Cultural and Creative Industry Expo to be held in October.

"Hangzhou has an established platform for international conventions and exhibitions," says Han Xiao, marketing director of Hangzhou Tourism Commission. "Large-scale meetings and exhibitions held in Hangzhou in recent years, such as the 2009 PATA annual meeting and the 5th International Conference on Destination Management, have greatly helped boost Hangzhou's international reputation."

The success of the World Expo Shanghai last year has also brought the tourist city into the global spotlight. Thanks to the launch of the high-speed train, Hangzhou is now only a 38-minute journey from central Shanghai.

"Meanwhile, we're also working on building Hangzhou into a destination for intensive travel," Han says.

"Intensive travel used to take place in first-tier cities," she says. "However, the growing cost in first-tier cities has made companies look for more affordable alternatives. Hangzhou should seize the opportunity."

More than 2.75 million overseas tourists visited Hangzhou last year. Most of them came from neighboring Asian countries and regions such as Japan and South Korea. This year, Hangzhou plans to attract more tourists from the United States and European countries by promoting its temples, silk and tea culture on major overseas TV channels such as CNN, BBC and Fox News.

"The upcoming Hangzhou World Leisure Expo will also help raise Hangzhou's global reputation," Han adds. "Our aim is to turn Hangzhou into an internationally recognized tourism and leisure center."

(Xu Wenwen also contributed to the story.)


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