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Hive of activity for top hotels

HANGZHOU'S increasing presence on the world stage is making it an enticing destination for international hotel chains looking to expand. Tan Weiyun looks at the current growth of the hospitality market in the city and its potential for the future.

Hangzhou has become a competitive battlefield for the luxury hotel industry. The capital of Zhejiang Province is attracting flocks of international hotel chains ready to try for a slice of the city's huge tourism and MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) market.

With the increasingly saturated markets in China's big cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong and Guangzhou in Guangdong Province, more hotel investors are casting their eyes toward the country's second-tier cities.

Hangzhou, boasting both scenic and cultural spots, is blessed with huge business potential to develop its hospitality industry.

Statistics from the local tourism bureau reveal that Hangzhou has a total of 14 five-star hotels currently, but by the end of this year the number is going to rise to 18, not including those international hotel brands who are waiting for star rating.

"Hangzhou has a good balance of leisure and business," said Colin Vickers, general manager of Sheraton Hangzhou Wetland Park Resort. "As the market is maturing, it is just about the right time for us to enter the market. It's not late."

Located in the Xixi Wetland and offering easy access to the downtown area and the West Lake, the newcomer is the first Sheraton hotel in Hangzhou, which is scheduled to be opened in the summer.

The 383-room resort has more than 2,000 square meters of flexible space for MICE events, all with natural lighting. This includes nine multifunctional meeting rooms, a pillar-less ballroom and a business center, equipped with the latest audiovisual equipment.

It also boasts probably the biggest round table in Hangzhou, which can treat 45 diners.

"The hotel is near but not in the city center, which is one of our advantages. Guests can get closer to the natural environment full of fresh air and crisp breezes, while still enjoying the great facilities we provide," the general manager said.

Wyndham Grand Plaza Royale Hangzhou is also rolling its sleeves to grab the city's MICE market share this year.

On the corner of the West Lake, the hotel has a fantastic location. "It's a couple of minutes' walk to great shops, convenience stores and the cinema, you can literally just walk everywhere," said the General Manager Chris Dexter.

"In the first year of opening (2010), we traveled extensively to several countries to market the hotel at various trade shows. This benefits the hotel in 2011," he said. "Additionally our shopping center adjoining the hotel 'Skyworld commerce' opens in four weeks' time, giving our guests additional shopping and entertainment facilities."

Homegrown brand Landison Plaza Hotel Hangzhou hasalready marked its spot on the city's MICE map.

In the heart of Hangzhou's business and shopping district, the hotel offers a variety of conference venues, from its 670-square-meter Lotus Ballroom seating 350 guests, to the 420-square-meter Four Seasons Hall that can accommodate 240 people and the 280-square-meter West Lake Room seating 110 guests.

"One of our biggest competitive edges is that our restaurant specializes in the most original and authentic local cuisine," said Carey Wang, the hotel's director of sales and marketing.

The hotel is going to hold a series of gourmet festivals this year by collaborating with Singapore and Mexico tourism bureaus.

"With strong support from the city government, I am quite optimistic about Hangzhou's MICE market in the future," Wang said.

This echoed with Robert Rippon, general manager of Sofitel Hangzhou Westlake.

"As one of the best 'Tourism Cities in China,' Hangzhou government will continue investing to upgrade the city's facilities and making campaigns promoting the destination, also aiming to become an 'International Conference City'," he said.

The Metro rail system under construction will bring convenient transportation and the high-speed train shortens the travel time to Shanghai. In addition, there are two new international flights that will open in Hangzhou to Singapore at the end of next month and Johannesburg in the middle of May. "That means we have two new markets to explore," Rippon said.

The hotel has implemented Sofitel's "Inspired Meetings" concept and provides a professional meeting consultant service to each organizer. "We have a panoramic lake view terrace with 120-person capacity, which is a unique selling point for events," the manager said.

The six-month World Expo Shanghai gave a great boost to its neighbor Hangzhou's hospitality industry. And to keep this good momentum in the post-Expo period, many hotels are switching to new promotions.

"It is very hard to reach the same peak in 2011 as the Expo Shanghai period especially with newly opened hotels and more to open in 2011," admitted Robert J. Gerber, general manager of Oakwood Residence Hangzhou. "Yet with our advantages, we are confident we will keep our specific market share, especially for the long-stay guests."

Different from other hotels, Oakwood offers a home environment with hotel-style services and facilities. Each apartment is fitted with amenities including a fully equipped kitchen, washer and dryer, high-speed broadband Internet and both direct and switchboard telephone lines.

Targeting the esteemed small to medium-size meetings and events, the hotel's fully equipped Business Center with two Boardrooms provides much more convenience and comfort to the customer compared with other hotels in the city.

The time-honored Hyatt Regency Hangzhou, located near the West Lake and close to Hubin commercial area and the city center, has entered its sixth year of operation.

It has groomed a team of experienced service professionals catering to various facets of conventions and events. Renowned companies the hotel has served include most of the top luxury fashion brands, top automobile companies, IT and pharmaceutical companies.

"The government has allocated resources with an aim to establish Hangzhou as a MICE destination for both domestic and international markets," said the General Manager Philip Yu. "Hangzhou government has established a new division dedicated to promote MICE business together with the key international hotels.

"As one of the most primary cities in the Yangtze River Delta with strong economic growth, we are expecting a healthy growth in MICE business in the coming year," he said.

General Manager of InterContinental Hangzhou Rob Spiekerman said Hangzhou's MICE market is on the upswing.

"I do believe that there is a very good future for the MICE market in and around Hangzhou," said Spiekerman. The hotel, located in the heart of Qianjiang New Town, opened to the public at the end of last year.

"The city has an excellent name and reputation when it comes to being clean, its green history and friendliness," he said. "The new strategy of national and international marketing has given the city more and more exposure and people are starting to get curious about Hangzhou and see Hangzhou as a good alternative after Beijing and Shanghai. The improved infrastructure and accessibility is an excellent example of the joined up strategy for the city's development."


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