Visiting China for the first time this fall, I crossed a few items off my bucket list, including walking the Great Wall and visiting The Forbidden City. They did not disappoint. However, I came away from a whirlwind week in Shanghai and Beijing equally as excited about the “new” China, which gives visitors a fascinating sense of place unlike anywhere else in the world.
If you’re looking to entice “been there/done that” top producers who have visited China before, there are new options and activities to dazzle and delight even the most jaded among them.
For starters, check out Shangri-La’s inaugural Kerry Hotels in Shanghai and Beijing—the newly constructed Kerry in Shanghai’s vibrant Pudong district opened in February 2011 and the renovated Kerry Hotel in the center of Beijing will be completed in March. This new brand has the same five-star service as the iconic Shangri-La hotels, but with a more modern, edgy vibe that Ed Brea, general manager of the Kerry Hotel Pudong, calls “relaxed luxury.” Meeting planners can expect to meet Brea, who himself reflects the fun and upbeat attitude of the brand, at the site inspection and during the course of the meeting. “I know every group that comes in,” he says.
The breakneck speed of construction in Shanghai has resulted in a sleek, futuristic-looking skyline that looks different from even just a few years ago. The 574-room Kerry Hotel, for example, is located in the new Kerry Parkside complex, directly connected to the Shanghai New International Expo Centre (where a $320 million expansion is due to be completed this month). But in no way does the property feel like a standard convention hotel in the United States. Rather, it is a showpiece of contemporary design that reflects the popularity of the Pudong district as a vibrant city center where people live, work, and play. As is the way with top hotels in China, it attracts a large neighborhood following as well as a local business clientele to its restaurants and bars. Your qualifiers will experience the new China just by being there.
Among other new and novel ideas that aren’t on the usual China incentive itinerary:
In Shanghai, eschew another formal dinner and treat attendees to a flight of six signature beers and Australian Angus beef burgers at The Kerry, accompanied by commentary from the hotel’s on-site brewmaster, Leon Mickelson. What does beer have to do with China? The Chinese people love beer, and the locals have made the hotel’s microbrewery, situated within the BREW restaurant, a must-see attraction. You can book the 153-seat industrial-chic pub space for your group, or have a larger tasting elsewhere in the hotel’s 78,576 square feet of meeting space, all designed with contemporary flair.
Shanghai and Beijing make a compelling two-city incentive program, and a high-speed bullet train inaugurated last summer makes traveling between the cities easy and stress-free. The first-class cabins are very comfy, with attentive service, and the nearly five-hour ride feels as if it whizzes by quickly—while also giving visitors a chance to see the changing landscape of the new China. Also on the transportation front, United Airlines now has nonstop service between Newark and Shanghai, and between Newark and Beijing.
In Beijing, take attendees off the beaten (ancient) path to visit the modern 798 Arts District, a SoHo-like area of decommissioned military factory buildings that has been reborn as a hip destination for fashionistas and art-lovers. Asian art specialist Megan Connolly, an ex-pat from New York City who co-owns Chart Contemporary, a Beijing-based “curatorial lab,” can help to set up a function in one of the many high-end galleries and speak to your group about the flourishing contemporary Chinese art scene.