When people think about Changsha they think of Hunan TV's Happy Camp, which has been a top rating entertainment program in China ever since its launch. It is also a bellwether for Changsha's cultural and entertainment industry, which has been growing in leaps and bounds over recent years. And this is reflected in the growing importance to the city of the meetings, incentive travel, conferences, and exhibitions segment of the hospitality industry.
Statistics released by Changsha Exposition Office show that altogether 581 exhibitions, forums, festivals, games, performances, and other activities were held in Changsha in 2010. Direct income from tickets, advertising, venue leasing, and booth construction reached CNY910 million, and the income from related industries such as hotels, transport, dining and entertainment has reached CNY 8.19 billion. In 2010 Changsha's conference and exhibition industry contributed 0.9% of the city's GDP.
Jiang Hua, the account director of Shanghai VR Conference Organizer Company told China Hospitality News that Changsha has very good resources and a good reputation for business travel, inbound travel, and the MICE sector. The only drawback, in Jiang's eyes, is there are not enough brand hotels.
Are there any local resources that can be used in a MICE activities held in Changsha? Jiang said that the local live shows are famous and offer good opportunities for interaction — which is very good for MICE. The company has undertaken many MICE activities for clients in the pharmaceutical industry.
Jiang always inspects venues when booking hotels in Changsha. Food and beverage, geographic environment, transport, guestroom, recreational facilities, and restaurants around the venue, are all examined. Hotels usually provide attentive service and authentic Hunan cuisine, which is spicy, hot, and delicious.
Jiang said Sheraton Changsha Hotel is the best recommendation he can make to other buyers, as it gives great support to a company's events.
Big Potential For Business Travel
The manager of China Beijing Youth Travel Service MICE Center, Lu Ke, says that BYTS has rich experience in business travel and inbound and outbound travel, as well as MICE. According to Lu Changsha is a very charming city as a MICE destination in China. Besides rich tourism resources, it also has Hunan cuisine, which is definitely a delight for those who favor spicy food. Lu believes that Changsha's hotel room rates are still at the middle level, and will probably rise in the future with the development of tourism resources and the improvement of facilities.
Changsha is expected to see more and more international brand hotels, said Lu. And along with these hotels there will be high quality service, which is helpful to large-scale MICE activities. Compared to Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Beijing, Changsha is a more novel city. In recent years pharmaceutical manufacturers have been very interested in holding their meetings in Changsha.
A hotel brand reflects the strength of the hotel management group, stated Lu, and that is the reason he puts it first in his checklist when choosing a hotel for clients. In addition, hotel room size, the date when the hotel was established, the level of maintenance, the size of meeting rooms, and levels and heights, are all aspects to be investigated. Sheraton Changsha Hotel has a good location, surroundings, and facilities, as well as quality service, and Lu said it would be his first choice in Changsha for activities in the future.
Lu recommends Changsha's food, Yue Lu Academy Institute, and Hunan Provincial Museum to business travelers to the city.
Sheraton Changsha Hotel: More Opportunities For Changsha's MICE Industry
Yoland Perras is the general manager of Sheraton Changsha Hotel. He has worked in Hong Kong and many cities in mainland China. He told China Hospitality News that having worked in various countries had given him the opportunity to learn how to quickly adapt to a new environment, as well as increasing his knowledge in the process. Hospitality is first and foremost all about people, he said. Working in the hospitality industry he has had the privilege of serving many celebrities, politicians, and honored guests: and also he has worked with great individuals. Whether in Chicago, Moscow, or Shenyang — to name a few of the places he has worked — all have their own identity. So does Changsha.
In every city that he worked in or visited, infrastructure is being reshaped, real estate is growing, new shopping concepts are being implemented, and tourism schools are dedicated to better serve the needs of the hospitality industry. China and its many provinces and cities are rich in determination and commitment, making sure in the process that all participate in the growth and the success of the industry. Changsha is no exception and seems to be even more forward in its resolve to achieve international recognition. Wherever you look, construction abounds and development is present. For example the kilometers of walkway on both banks of the Xiangjiang river are well designed, and they offer citizens a pleasant setting and comfortable recreational facilities just a few steps away from busy and bustling downtown Changsha.
Sheraton Changsha Hotel has now been open for four years. Since its opening it has been the market leader in many areas and, as its product and people mature, it continues to be so. Because of its personalized service and approach, the hotel has received praise from guests as well as feedback on ways to further improve its offerings. Learning from guests and connecting with them through various means, helps the hotel develop and maintain its position. The goal is to retain that position for the long run.
Perras stated that 80% of the hotel's guests are domestic Chinese, 40% of which are from Hunan province. The remaining 20% are from other regions and countries, including Hong Kong, the USA, and Europe. Of the guests, 55% are corporate travelers, 20% are from the MICE segment, 20% are leisure travelers and the remaining 5% are tour groups and others.
E-marketing is certainly one of the most effective marketing tools, says Perras. Sheraton and the Starwood group have a huge customer database which enables them to increase their e-marketing efforts and promotions. Sheraton Changsha Hotel will make use of this to reinforce their activities in this area. E-marketing is also cost effective, and this is especially important during the current economic downturn. Moreover, a series of incentive programs such as SPG program, SPP, SPB, and StarChoice program will help the hotel to win more MICE business.
With nine multi-function meeting rooms, a pillar-less ballroom covering 2,000 square meters, and a business center — all equipped with the latest technology and audiovisual equipment — Sheraton Changsha Hotel is ready to accommodate any meeting or event. Link @ Sheraton in the lobby provides 24 hours high speed Internet access. Understanding the needs of the hotel's business partners is key to a successful journey and hence the hotel promotes constant and professional communication for efficient and active cooperation.
MICE events are always an important segment for hotels since they boost almost every kind of hotel revenue. Sheraton Changsha has the best of the best of the conference facilities in Changsha according to Perras, and it will keep improving based on customers' requirements. The hotel has an experienced and professional conference team to take care of MICE guests. It will keep learning and will especially aim to meet the needs of local companies. The hotel sees opportunities to grow this segment since more large foreign or global companies are entering Changsha, and existing nationwide companies are organizing a lot of MICE events in the city. Starwood has global sales offices in all the key MICE feeder markets — such as Shanghai, Guangzhou, Beijing, and Hong Kong — and the hotel will reinforce its coordination with these GSOs.
Asked what business travelers or MICE guests can do in their spare time, Perras' recommendations include the Shao Shan Mao Zedong Museum, Mao Zedong's former residence, the Lei Feng memorial, Yue Lu Mountain, Yue Lu Academy Institute, Orange Island, and Hunan Provincial Museum. For people who enjoy night life, he says Pub Street is the very place to go. Or they can go to the riverside sightseeing road to enjoy the river views, and then go to Qingshuitang Antique Street to buy some really good stuff.
Price Advantage For MICE
Jiang Xiaoliang, the deputy general manager of Shanghai CIBS told CHN that the company mainly concentrates on high-end business meetings, and has gradually created its own brand. As a MICE destination, Changsha boasts a price advantage compared with other Chinese cities holding large-scale exhibitions and conferences. Also, as a city in central China, it is convenient for people to travel to Changsha from other parts of the country. There are also many colleges and universities in Changsha, creating a good platform for communication. Jiang also adds that Changsha citizens are very friendly and hospitable to tourists.
Despite all these advantages, there are also many deficiencies in the development of MICE in Changsha. First, hotel facilities are not really good enough, and there are not many international brand hotels. Second, the transportation system does not work very well: for example, taxi drivers, and especially those around the airport, often rip off tourists. This is really bad for Changsha's reputation. Third, there is still potential for Changsha to improve its links to the outside world, making it much easier for people to conveniently get in or out of the city. Changsha should learn from cities such as Chengdu, Hangzhou, Qingdao, and Dalian in this respect.
Brand, hardware facilities and software service, are the three major criteria for Jiang when inspecting hotels. Currently most hotels in Changsha do not have quality hardware and software, and the city should attract more hotel international hotels to improve the standard of the industry. Of the hotels Jiang has used in Changsha, he says Sheraton Changsha Hotel's F&B and its general service level are really worth mentioning.
Red Tour is a brand unique to Changsha. Jiang thinks it would be great to use red tourism resources in MICE activities. Yue Lu Mountain, Yue Lu Academy Institute, Hunan Provincial Museum, and Orange Island are all the pride of Changsha. Also it would great if MICE guests could make time to visit Mao Zedong's hometown, Xiangtan.