The Chinese market is eagerly pursuing international meetings, says Ping He, the Lombard, Ill.-based director of international market development for meetings management firm Experient. Already, China has more than 50 one million-square-foot convention centers -- and the number is growing. What the country needs more of, however, is meetings business.
"There are more than 200 convention centers already built around China," according to He. "But the problem is, nobody goes there. These centers only support the local market."
Lack of planning is to blame, believes He. "Basically it's like, 'Trade shows make money? Then let's build a convention center.' But once they build it, there is no business. So they have a problem."
In an effort to cast the net wider, the Chinese government has partnered with the International Association of Exhibitions and Events to cohost the China Expo Forum for International Cooperation (CEFCO).
The following three facilities, according to He, are best positioned to host international groups.
China National Convention Center, Beijing
Main exhibition hall: 247,570 square feet
Number of meeting rooms: 72
Total square footage: 5.3 million
On-site hotel rooms: 757 (two hotels)
Distance to Beijing Capital International Airport: 25 minutes by taxi
Why go? "Beijing is China's number-one convention city. Its Chinese National Convention Center was built for the Olympics, right across from Beijing National Stadium (aka "the Bird's Nest"). It was used during the Olympics as the international media center, and after that they remodeled it for conventions. Within walking distance are more than 3,000 hotel rooms."
Shanghai New International Expo Centre
Exhibition hall: 1.3 million square feet
Number of meeting rooms: 37
Total square footage: 2.4 million
On-site hotel rooms: 952 rooms (three hotels), opening in 2010
Distance to Shanghai Pudong International Airport: 7 minutes by train
Why go? "Shanghai has with two convention centers. The smaller of the two, which is only used for small conference purposes, is the Shanghai International Convention Center, which was built first. Then, in 2001, a huge facility was opened in the Pudong area [aka River East] called the Shanghai New International Expo Centre. It's almost like McCormick Place in Chicago. In 2010, the center will reach full exhibition capacity, and the whole area will be used for the China Expo, for which 163 countries had purchased space by November 2008."
Guangzhou Baiyun International Convention Center
Exhibition hall: 645,000 square feet
Number of meeting rooms: 66
Total square footage: 3.4 million
On-site hotel rooms: 1,086 (one hotel)
Distance to Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport: 25 minutes by taxi
Why go? "Guangzhou is the number-one trade show city in China," says He. "It has a brand-new convention center, one that hosted the 2007 CEFCO conference. Guangzhou hosts more than 200 shows a year, and its main business is to attract importing/exporting business to the city."
Facilities to watch
According to He, "The fourth most popular convention center is the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Fifth is the Chengdu International Exhibition and Convention Center in Sichuan province, where the earthquake struck in 2008. The sixth is the Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel in Macau. What will probably be the seventh most popular is being built in Tianjin, China's Silicon Valley. This, however, probably will not see significant use until beyond 2010."