Suzhou: Marketing The Cultural Approach In China

Of China's five major MICE travel-related economic zones, the Yangtze River Delta Region has many advantages. With a large and varied manufacturing and commercial base, each MICE city has a clear market segment.


Ningbo and Wenzhou focus on manufacturing, Hangzhou on leisure, meetings and travel, while Suzhou majors on foreign trade and foreign-funded exhibitions. With the rapid economic development in recent years, more and more people are coming into Suzhou for travel or business meetings. And with the increase of high-end meetings and exhibitions, and more corporate clients are choosing Suzhou as a destination for incentive travel the city's incentive travel business is booming.

As a destination for incentive travel, Suzhou has demonstrable advantages in location, tourism resources, culture, and service facilities.

Geographical Advantages
Located in the center of the Yangtze River Delta Region, Suzhou neighbors Shanghai, the largest industrial, financial and trade center in China to the east, with Zhejiang to the south, Taihu Lake to the west, and the Yangtze River to the north. Since ancient times, Suzhou has been renowned as a paradise on Earth. Due to its proximity with Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Wuxi, Suzhou is accessible via trains, planes, and inter-city expressways and this helps tourists cut down on travel time. However, Suzhou features is very different to Shanghai, both physically and culturally despite the close proximity of the two cities.

Suzhou is a famous historic city in China. To this day it remains on the original site it occupied during the Spring and Autumn period and retains the double chessboard layout of parallels of land and water with river and street bordering on each other and the simple and unsophisticated appearance of little bridges, flowing streams, and country dwellings. Embodying the essence of the oriental art, the classical gardens in Suzhou are renowned as world cultural treasures. According to statistics, there are more than 60 well-preserved gardens in Suzhou, and of the four most famous Chinese gardens, two – The Humble Administrator's Garden and Lingering Garden — are in Suzhou. In addition, nine Suzhou gardens The Humble Administrator's Garden, Lingering Garden, Huanxiu Villa, Nets Garden, Lion Grove Garden, Garden Art, Lotus Garden, Surging Wave Pavilion, and The Retreat and Reflection Garden have been listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

Cultural Characteristics
Suzhou is home to Kunqu Opera, one of the earliest forms of Chinese opera forms which has been listed by the United Nations as a non-material and verbally-transmitted culture heritage. Now, it has become a hot idea to enjoy Kunqu opera in a classic Suzhou garden and this has attracted numerous tourists from both home and abroad. In addition, ringing the bell at Hanshan Temple has become a famous cultural event in Suzhou during the Chinese New Year. In addition, Suzhou has the Chongguan Temple, the largest indoor Kwan Yin Temple in China; and Qionglong Hill, the birth place of Sunzi Military Theory; as well as the Taihu and Yangchenghu lakes which are especially beautiful in Autumn. All these serve as important parts of the rich tourism resources of Suzhou.

Suzhou is now working on the protection, development. and utilization of its ancient city. It is restoring the historic view of Qili Shantang, and exploring and cataloging the ancient villages that form part of the city. It has set up 12 museums on topis such as opera, craftwork, folk culture, gardens, embroidery, stele sculpture, and silk. In the meantime, it has developed its rivers and created a unique water travel route and a feature street that integrates travel, culture and trade. Favored by a pleasant climate — Suzhou is warm and humid throughout the year – the city offers a wide variety of seasonal food, which caters for tourists and provides them with visual pleasure.

Industry Environment
Suzhou Industrial Park and Suzhou High-tech Industrial Development Zone have attracted a large number of international and domestic companies and they have also encouraged the development of the city's commercial and recreational environment as well as its exhibition industry. Suzhou Convention and Exhibition Center, which is the largest of its kind in Jiangsu province, can host various meeting and exhibitions and provides space for enterprises with thousands of employees to hold events.

Hotel Services and Facilities
Hotels are an important indicator of a city's tourism and service industry. Experts say that by 2010, the number of high-end hotels in Suzhou will have increased fourfold. The increasing number of exhibitions has raised the standard of Suzhou's hotel industry. Meanwhile, with the increase of investment from international enterprises and the development of local companies as well as the increase of high standard business meetings in the city, Suzhou's hotel industry has prospered. Business banquets for more than a thousand people and large meetings have become new profit growth points for hotels in Suzhou. Meetings, particularly business meetings and incentive travel where the attendees are mainly corporate executives, have raised hotel service standards . As a result hotels in Suzhou are competing vigorously with meeting services. Every hotel has begun to focus on investments in meeting hardware and construction in addition to being fully prepared for offering unique services for MICE clients.

Four Indices On Suzhou's Incentive Travel
Concerning Suzhou's incentive travel resources, Zhao Hongyu, deputy general manager of the International Meeting and Incentive Travel Center of China Travel Service, told China Hospitality News that CTS organized a one-week incentive travel for more than 600 people from a multinational company in 2008. Zhao said that as an incentive travel destination, Suzhou has been growing very rapidly in recent years. The speed of hotel construction is a measure of a destination's development in incentive travel. Hotels are always built for MICE, and once a city focuses its eyes on MICE, hotels managed by international hotel groups will flock there. A long time ago, there was only one hotel in Suzhou that provided services to foreign guests. The hotel used to be a landmark in Suzhou and all high-end clients coming to the city had only one choice — they had to stay in that hotel. Now with the increase of meeting and incentive travel events, many hotels groups have come in and the competition has become fierce. Being a member of the Golden Triangle of East China plus its ever-growing facilities, Suzhou offers great potential as an incentive travel destination.

Transportation, hotel meeting facilities, food service, and tourism resources are the four main factors that are usually considered in judging a city's development in MICE.

First, transportation. Located in the Golden Triangle area of east China, Suzhou has a good air and land transport network connect it with Beijing, Hangzhou. and Shanghai. Suzhou is also on a main channel connecting with the Grand Canal. Its advantage in transportation lies in the fact that it connects all the main roads of China and provides an easy access to high-end incentive travel clients from Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.

Second, hotel service and facilities. With the entry of a large number of brand hotels, MICE clients are guaranteed to enjoy first-class hotel facilities and other services such as simultaneous interpretation and networks, which are critical to incentive travel. In addition they benefit from sound software services. As international hotel management companies adopt unified global standards, meeting quality is guaranteed. What's more, there are many room options so the needs of incentive travel clients can be fully met and their worries eliminated.

Third, Suzhou features unique food service. Since incentive travel clients have high expectations it's important to give the clients a taste of food with local characteristics. Suzhou food embodies the cultural characteristic of regions south of the Yangtze River. Both big hotels and local smaller restaurants can all provide a wide variety of food and snacks.

Fourth, Suzhou features rich tourism resources. Suzhou is located in a water network. The streets are built along the river and the buildings are parallel to the water to form the pattern of "little bridge, flowing stream and country dwelling", which leaves a deep impression travelers. "Suzhou Garden is the best on earth", currently there are more than 60 gardens across the city, of which The Humble Administrator's Garden and Lingering Garden are listed among the four most famous Chinese gardens, and they, along with seven other gardens including Nets Garden, Huanxiu Villa, the Surging Wave Pavillion, Lion Grove Garden, Garden Art, the Lotus Garden, and the Retreat and Reflection Garden, were listed in December 1997 and November 2000 by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. In addition, the ancient towns of Tong Li, Zhou Zhuang, and Luzhi are applying for listing as world heritage sites. Suzhou municipal government has also done a good job on river channel improvement, garden protection, and historic site restoration. It has restored the appearance of Suzhou of more than 2,000 years ago. High-end incentive travel clients coming to the city can not only enjoy the beautiful scenery of the regions to the south of the Yangtze River, but also experience the Gusu culture between their meetings. In addition Suzhou has cultural items such as Kunqu Opera and Suzhou Storytelling that can be integrated into incentive travel. Meetings can also be held on cruises, dragon boats, or in gardens. These unique culture items will ensure incentive travel clients a pleasant and memorable trip.

Taking the clients' demands into account, incentive travel planners often judge a destination by these four aspects. Suzhou has a unique advantage as an incentive travel destination and will bring an unforgettable experience for these planners.

Why Suzhou Is Favored By International Hotels
How has Suzhou attracted so many international hotels? David Ho, general manager of Howard Johnson All Suites Hotel Suzhou, said, Suzhou enjoys the reputation of "Just as there is paradise in heaven, there are Suzhou and Hangzhou on earth". With the development of Suzhou Industrial Park in recent years, the business and entertainment options along the Jinji Lake are increasing rapidly and Suzhou has gradually become a dynamic city in the region south of the Yangtze River. Ho said that Suzhou combines both the classic touch with the modern style. The comprehensive tourism and entertainment facilities have been especially attractive to tourists from around China and the whole world. Neil McDonald, general manager of Sheraton Suzhou Hotel & Towers, said many events can be themed in conjunction with the historic and cultural attractions of Suzhou, and the city is suitable for meeting the varied demands of incentive travel clients. Hafidh Al Busaidy, general manager of Crowne Plaza Suzhou remarked that Suzhou is relatively new to the meeting and exhibition market compared to its neighbor Shanghai, however it has developed very quickly a stunning infrastructure to cater specifically to these events. Its modern Exhibition center has hosted the "Jinji Jiang" event (the Chinese Oscars) which attracts stars and celebrities from all across China and the world. It has developed excellent transport links with Shanghai and a multitude of world-class hotels and resorts to host the most discerning travelers. Suzhou is not only well placed but has a number of key advantages over more established Shanghai, the ease of movement around the city, the variety of historical, entertainment, and retail venues and its excellent value for money, and world class service mean that Suzhou has a bright future in this market.

Varied Ways Of Offering Exhibition Services
Achim Bureckner, general manager of Kempinski Hotel Suzhou, said that they have designed different meeting packages to suite any type of event that corporations may want. They also have made sure that they have fully qualified event service teams who have been trained to coordinate with clients who have any sort of special requirement. In addition, they strive continuously on job specific trainings for staff to ensure professionalism and guest satisfaction. Neil McDonald, general manager of Sheraton Suzhou Hotel & Towers, stated that the hotel would work closely together with the Exhibition Centre and the other hotels to be competitive within China to secure large global events for Suzhou.

Thomas Gou, general manager of Shangri-La Hotel, Suzhou, said that Shangri-la Hotel Suzhou places great attention to Suzhou's MICE development and the hotel is involved in many MICE activities. On the one hand, this helps them to communicate with their counterparts in the travel field, and on the other hand, the hotel can further understand the needs of its clients. For example, the hotel's MICE team visits clients in Shanghai, Nanjing and other cities to listen to their first-hand comments regarding the services the hotel provides and their suggestions. In addition, the hotel's events management team appoints a specialist to take care of one group or organizations to provide a complete one-stop service. This specialist coordinates with appointed representatives of other front-line hotel operations departments to ensure that each client receives the best service.

Considering the common and features of clients of different cities and different industries, the hotel has developed exhibition and travel items with Suzhou characteristics to met clients' demand. While offering more options and convenience for the clients, the hotel has won more business opportunities.

The Future of Suzhou's Incentive Travel
Under the influence of the global financial crisis and the ever-increasing market competition, how will Suzhou's hospitality industry cope with the situation? David Ho, general manager of Howard Johnson All Suites Hotel Suzhou, told China Hospitality News that the current situation should be faced with equanimity, while emotions frequently respond to the environment. Ho said that Howard Johnson All Suites Hotel Suzhou would decorate its hotel and gardens with furnishings according to different seasons to enable the clients to enjoy nature. Ho believed that with the establishment of the city circle in the Yangtze River Delta Region, Suzhou's advantage in location would become more prominent and it would respond to more clearly defined markets. With the ongoing service development, Suzhou will have a bright future for incentive travel. Neil McDonald, general manager of Sheraton Suzhou Hotel & Towers, said that though Suzhou does not have an airport to attract the larger international events, it is a very unique city and being so close to Shanghai makes it a very good option. Suzhou can offer better pricing than Shanghai and offers a "snapshot" of the real China that can be appreciated during conference and exhibition time without having long to travel.

Albert Qi, general manager of Palace Lan Resort & Spa, believed that as the fast-paced urban life has brought increasing pressure on people, many local guests based meetings now intend to choose hotels located in the suburban areas. Data shows that business hotels host 51.20% of the meetings, while holiday resorts only 4.1%, which means that there are much potential for holiday resorts to attract meeting planners — particularly those resorts that are located in the suburbs. These kinds of hotel are competitive in the comprehensive meeting market, while those that are located in downtown areas are competitive in serving companies from other cities that have high demands for transportation. In this regard, consideration should be given to the combination of meetings and exhibitions, such as a medicine promotion meeting or an exhibition on studying overseas. Hotels located in or nearby universities are an advantage for planners of academic meetings.

Achim Brueckner, general manager of Kempinski Hotel Suzhou, believes that the meeting and exhibition industry in Suzhou is progressing on a very rapid pace. However, Suzhou has much more to offer! The hospitality industry has to do their homework to let people from outside Suzhou know what fantastic meeting, conference, and leisure opportunities Suzhou has to offer. The tourism authorities should be encouraged to take more initiatives to promote Suzhou as a city with lots of opportunities.

The development of meetings and exhibitions needs the participation of all parties involved, and hotels are one of the most important participants. The improvement of hotel meeting hardware and software facilities will surely facilitate the rapid development of the city's meeting and exhibition business.