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Everything's in train for MICE

WITH China's fastest long-haul railway line Beijing-Shanghai High-speed Railway now in full operation, the Yangtze River Delta region is moving into a new era of high-speed railways.

This high-octane enthusiasm has been bolstered by the other two railway lines, Shanghai-Hangzhou and Shanghai-Nanjing, which have been connecting those cities for more than eight months, speeding along at 300 kilometers per hour.

The sprawling high-speed rail network around Shanghai - complete, under construction and in trial runs - is bringing the city closer to nearby provinces, as well as the capital Beijing, 1,462 kilometers to the north.

"High-speed rail throws off the shackles of long distance and long hours between China's two busiest regions - the Yangtze River Delta and the ring of the Bohai Sea," says Wang Rudong, director of management promotion of the Office of the Suzhou Tourism Bureau. "It will give a great boost to economic development, the tourism industry and cities along the railway lines.

One of the biggest winners in this high-speed craze is the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Travel, Conventions and Events/Exhibitions) industry for high-end hotels, which have benefited greatly from all the easy connections.

"Hangzhou is just 45 minutes from Shanghai by high-speed train, enabling easy travel between Shanghai and Hangzhou or other cities; it definitely increase the traffic to Hangzhou," says Philip Yu, general manager of Hyatt Regency Hangzhou. "In general, our hotel's demand shows growth compared with last year not only in the MICE segment but also in leisure and business for individual guests."

The view is shared by Alvaro Rautenberg, general manager of Kempinski Hotel Suzhou. "Currently, we see a trend of more and more MICE guests asking for pick-ups and drop-offs from and to the train station," he says. "Just look at our guest profiles and you will find that an increasing are coming from far greater distance since the high-speed railway was set up."

Rautenberg notes that high-speed rail travel eliminates the inconvenience of security checks at airports or congested highways.

"Guests arrive much more relaxed. Most important, they have more time to enjoy the great service and the facilities at our hotel because high-speed is reliable."

Mike Zhang, director of sales and marketing at Pan Pacific Suzhou, says some MICE companies chose his hotel because of the convenience of high-speed rail. The hotel is now preparing MICE events for three companies.

"High-speed rail gives a boost to both modern and traditional tourism," Zhang says.

"Modern tourism focuses on recreation, shopping and quality accommodation, while traditional tourism is mainly about natural and cultural sight-seeing," says director Wang from the Suzhou Tourism Bureau.

Suzhou's 80-square-kilometer Jinji Lake is considered China's first model park for business travel and recreation; it has abundant facilities, including a conference center, a mega shopping plaza, a golf course, and a long street of fine restaurants and high-end star hotels. There are many recreation facilities.

"These are all tailor-made for business travelers, and of course, MICE groups are becoming a steady flow," the director says. "And more of them are arriving by convenient and reliable high-speed train."

As for the traditional tourism, Wang sounds even more confident. "The Beijing-Shanghai High-speed Railway will definitely take more visitors from the north to southern China where they can visit exquisite classical gardens, well-preserved old architecture, meandering rivers and different customs and lifestyles."

The fast rail connections also intensify competition among cities and hotels. Those that were not previously on many travel itineraries are now joining the battle to claim tourist revenue. Hotels are ready, already offering special services.

"Now we are competing not only with hotels in Hangzhou, but also with those in Shanghai, Suzhou and even further places such as Qingdao in Shandong Province and Xiamen in Fujian Province," says Yu of the Hyatt Regency Hangzhou. "But we believe that with the natural resources of West Lake and the area's rich history, we offer not only comfortable rooms and flexible function spaces, but also an exciting cultural journey for both business and leisure guests."

Located on the banks of West Lake, the hotel is 30 kilometers from Xiaoshan International Airport and 4 kilometers from the train station. It is within walking distance of the city's shopping centers and offers easy access to Hangzhou's many scenic spots.

As for the hotel's MICE facilities, it offers a Convention Service Team, which works hand-in-hand with event organizers, from inception to execution, to guarantee success.

Off-site catering by the hotel's award-winning team can provide a gala dinner at a famous historical site or an intimate product launch near picturesque West Lake.

Distinctiveness is what every hotel seeks. Pan Pacific Suzhou, inspired by the traditional Suzhou garden architecture, fuses ancient and modern and opens onto magnificent Panmen Garden, a national tourist site. Outdoor meetings can be held there.

"And we provide professional meeting planners to follow up from the beginning till the end of the events," says Zhang, the hotel's sales and marketing director.

Rautenberg of Kempinski Hotel Suzhou says the opportunities are bigger than the challenges. Located by Jinji Lake, the hotel offers a spectacular view. It has an open, pillar-less 1,800-square-meter ballroom, and health facilities with a 50-meter-long pool. There's private access to the lake for guests.

"What makes us stand out by offering truly European luxury rather than standardized luxury you will find elsewhere," he says.

The hotel battle is also expected to heat up in Shanghai.

"We are already in a very competitive market in Shanghai, which includes rivalry from hotels in Suzhou and Hangzhou for meetings and conferences," says Mun Hee Park, marketing director of the Shanghai Marriott Hotel Changfeng Park. "But we will continue to set new benchmarks by providing outstanding facilities and services that are second to none. Our aim is to give groups WOW experiences and impress organizers so they keep coming back."

Positioned in the western area of Shanghai's downtown, the hotel offers guests a convenient location to conduct meetings only 15 minutes from the Hongqiao Transport Hub.

It provides more than 1,500 square meters of meeting space, including a pillar-less 770-square-meter ballroom, and 13 meeting rooms with the high-tech facilities. The hotel is a much sought-after destination for meetings, conference and celebrations.

It plans to launch extension stays to Suzhou and Hangzhou with sister hotels for pre- or post-meeting events. Transport is included.

Director Wang from the Suzhou Tourism Bureau is optimistic that "the market will be larger and there will be more customers to come. I don't think it is a competition."

He cites the example of tourists in Suzhou regularly visiting Wuxi, another old city with rich cultural and scenic sites.

"It's a win-win cooperation and cities can work together better," he says.


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