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Guangzhou: Polishing The Pearl

Oct 1, 2010
2010 / October 2010

Guangzhou, known for centuries in the West as Canton, is buffing up to host the 16th Asian Games this November. The changes in China’s third-largest city (population 10.3 million), located 75 miles northwest of Hong Kong, are more than cosmetic. As the powerhouse of southern China, Guangzhou was among the very first to benefit from China’s booming economy in the 1980s. Overnight, tens of thousands of factories began to fuel China’s international trade, stocking the store shelves of the world with inexpensive clothing and electronics and making Guangzhou “the world’s workshop.” Rocked by the rise of nearby rivals Shenzhen, Macau and a resurgent Hong Kong, as well as the ascendancy of Shanghai to the north, Guangzhou’s impact may have diminished over time, but the coming of the Asian Games has given the pearl of the Pearl River Delta a fresh impetus to undertake its own renewed expansion.

The city’s financial surge has not been deterred by the worldwide economic downturn. Since 2006, Guangzhou’s gross domestic product has increased 13.5 percent annually and now ranks 30th in the world. GDP per capita has reached $13,111 (vs. America’s $23,232). The city has laid plans to enter a new phase of accelerated growth focusing on international trade, shipping, manufacturing and green development. Taojin Road, for example, well known to expatriates for its shopping and dining, is being groomed as Guangzhou’s Wall Street. LED signs are in place for live broadcasts from the stock exchange, and a dozen financial organizations are clustered here, led by the Bank of China. Meanwhile, the Guangzhou International Medical Port at Dongsha is set to become China’s largest pharmaceutical logistics center for drug testing and research. The Tianhe Business Zone is the center of Guangzhou’s PC and digital device production, accounting for nearly 40 percent of China’s output.

By the time the Asian Games open on Nov. 12, Guangzhou hopes to have in operation eight Metro lines (four of them new) serving 8 million passengers a day at 148 stations, including the airport. Motorcycles have been banned from urban roadways since 2007, and all taxis and buses are slated to be LPG-fueled by the end of this year. Guangzhou already boasts more LPG-fueled vehicles than any other city in the world.

These business developments help explain why 20,000 expatriates from 150 countries are Guangzhou residents, with fully 500,000 foreign travelers conducting business in the city on any given day — vastly more when the Canton Trade Fair, the world’s largest, is in session. But the city is also investing in the greening of the industrial Delta region. The new green belt created in the Nansha District, completed in August, stretches 15 miles, affording pleasant strolls and bicycling along the Jiaomen River, an estuary of the Pearl River. Nansha Beach, featuring a protected 200-yard swimming area, has reopened here after a year’s renovation. Over the past 18 months, moreover, Guangzhou has poured $1.7 billion into cleaning up the Pearl River and its tributaries. By the opening of the Asian Games, 85 percent of the city’s domestic sewage will be treated, a dramatic improvement in this sprawling, highly industrialized city.

New tourist venues have also sprouted up on the eve of the Asian Games. Long regarded as a less-than-sterling site for sightseers in China, Guangzhou now boasts a revamped old town section, Shangxiajiu Shopping Street, where 238 century-old Qi Lou buildings — shops with archways to protect from rain and sun — hawk hats, shoes, jewelry and garments, as well as Cantonese cuisine, Guangzhou’s most celebrated cultural treasure. Capping these attractions is the Guangzhou TV & Sightseeing Tower, opened on National Day, Oct. 1. In addition to its panoramic views of the Delta and its many restaurants, including a new open-air teahouse, the Tower comes equipped with a heart-stopping Ferris wheel on top that provides Guangzhou’s best 20-minute visual tour.

The hotel industry is keeping pace. Guangzhou used to be dominated by cavernous luxury hotels like the White Swan, the Garden and the Dong Feng, favorites of business travelers attending the Canton Fair. Now there’s a raft of brand-new international players, including Shangri-La, Westin, Sheraton and Ritz-Carlton. InterContinental alone will soon sport five Guangzhou properties, running the gamut from Holiday Inn to Crowne Plaza.

Guangzhou’s signature event for international business travelers, the China Import and Export Fair, better known as the Canton Fair, has held sway twice yearly since 1957. Recently, its booths have been transferred from the old site in Liuhua to the new Pazhou Complex at 380 Yuejiangzhong Lu in the city’s southern Haizhu District. The trade fair attracts 165,000 visitors from 203 countries and regions; hosts more than 20,000 exhibitors (mostly China-based) and boasts a business turnover of $262 million. Its sessions in mid-April and mid-October are now each divided into three five-day phases, and the goods for trade range from toys and tractors to carpets and computers.

This year the biggest event on the calendar, outranking even the Canton Fair, is the 16th Asian Games, running Nov. 12–27 and bringing unprecedented numbers of visitors to Guangzhou. Some 14,000 athletes from 45 countries are slated to compete in 42 sports; 10,000 journalists will be on hand; and at least 3 million spectators will descend on the city. Tourism revenues are expected to top $150 million during the big fest.

As it reasserts its role as the “golden capital” of the Pearl River Delta, Guangzhou is spearheading a new plan for the region that stretches well beyond the infrastructure improvements already in place. The Pearl River Delta is targeted for the creation of two or three entirely new cities by 2020; the construction of an 18-mile-long bridge linking Hong Kong to Macau; 2,000 miles of new roads and 700 miles of new rail lines by 2012; and the merger of Guangzhou with an adjacent city, Foshan. Across the entire Delta region, there will soon be no roaming charges or long-distance fees for mobile phone users, and one stored-value card will apply to all forms of public transportation.

For now and the immediate future, then, Guangzhou has re-emerged as the fastest-growing portion of the fastest-growing province in the fastest-growing large economy in the world.

Info To Go

The New Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN) replaced the old Baiyun Airport in 2004. A new 17-mile Metro line is scheduled to link the airport to the city sometime this year. Airport Express buses to downtown hotels take 30–45 minutes ($1.50–6). Airport taxis are quicker but more expensive ($20). Metro subway fares downtown cost 30 cents to $1.75, with most station signage in English. Taxis start at $1 (first 1.4 miles). Visit http://www.visitgz.com/en .


As Guangzhou’s economic fortunes rebound, so do its attractions. Dozens of sights have been extensively renovated to coincide with the opening of the 16th Asian Games on Nov. 12, the 144th anniversary of the birth of Sun Yat-sen, modern China’s founding father and Guangzhou’s favorite son.

The newest attraction on the block is the Guangzhou TV & Sightseeing Tower, where the best view of the city is furnished by a slowly revolving Ferris wheel. On the southeast fringes of the city, Nansha Beach, closed for a year of renovations, has reopened with fresh beach sand for volleyball, a new greenway for bicycling and an expansive “History of the Opium War” exhibit inside the Heavenly Queen’s Temple. Along the riverbanks in the burgeoning Tianhe District, there’s yet another new exhibition center, the Guangdong Museum (2 Zhujiang Dong Lu, tel 86 20 3804 6886). Its 166,000 treasures illuminate a comprehensive history of Guangdong Province. A recent attraction unique to Guangzhou is China’s first pawnbroker’s museum, situated in a traditional watchtower (diao lou). Open since Aug. 3, the Dongping Pawn House (1 Zhongshan Si Lu) dates from the Qing Dynasty.

Among “older” attractions on the A-list are the Guangdong Museum of Art (38 Yanyu Lu, Ersha Island, tel 86 20 8735 1468), the largest of its kind in China, and Shamian Island, for several centuries the only place in China where Western merchants could settle. Recently renovated, this colonial enclave is festooned with upscale shops and trendy cafés, as well as Western mansions and Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel, built by the French in 1892.

Guangzhou’s factories made it “the world’s workshop,” but its abundant, low-priced consumer goods are making it the world’s shopping mall, too. The two main shopping thoroughfares are Beijing Lu Pedestrian Street and Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street. Shangxiajiu, the cheaper of the two, is best visited when its historic buildings are lighted up at night. Up to half a million shoppers converge daily on Grandview Mall (228 Tianhe Lu, tel 86 20 3833 0098), among China’s largest with its musical fountains, fast foods, ice rink and an entire floor (the 5th) devoted to kids’ stuff. For one-stop wholesale shopping, however, Onelink Plaza (39 Jie Fang Nan Lu) is unsurpassed — rock-bottom prices in a mall of stalls.

After sightseeing and shopping, close out the day with a Pearl River dinner cruise, booked by your hotel. This is an ideal way to receive the full charge of the Bai-E-Tan light show as it emblazons Guangzhou’s electric skyline.


China Hotel

Now a Marriott, this 850-room complex has served international CEOs and celebrities for three decades. With updated 5-star amenities, it still sets the bar high.
122 Liu Hua Lu, Yuexiu District,
tel 86 20 8666 6888, $$$$

Shangri-la Hotel, Guangzhou
This top business address offers 5-star luxury five minutes from the Canton Fair site, with 704 guestrooms, six executive floors and 26 serviced apartments.
1 Hui Zhan Dong Lu, Hai Zhu District,
tel 86 20 8917 8888, $$$$

The Westin Guangzhou
The business-savvy retreat adjacent to CITIC Plaza and many Fortune 500 companies has 446 spacious guestrooms with desks and separate tubs and showers.
6 Lin He Zhong Lu, Tianhe District,
tel 86 20 2886 6868, $$$$



This classic garden restaurant on Liwan Lake is recently redecorated, but its legendary dim sum and imperial ambience remain unchanged.
151 Longjin Xi Lu,
tel 86 20 8181 5718 $$–$$$$

Lai Heen
From dim sum to the most complex and refined Cantonese delicacies, the signature hotel restaurant serves regional dishes in elegant East/West surroundings.
3 Xingan Lu,
The Ritz-Carlton Guangzhou, Tanhe District,
tel 86 20 3813 6688, $$$–$$$$

With panoramic views of the Pearl River from 13 private dining suites, this top hotel eatery delivers contemporary Cantonese cuisine in high style.
Grand Hyatt Guangzhou,
12 Zhujiang Xi Lu, Tianhe District,
tel 86 20 8396 1234, $$$$

Chekingking In With Kate Chang Regional Director, Pacific Asia Travel Association, China

How Has Guangzhou Been Affected By The Global Economic Slowdown?

Various industries in Guangzhou were affected, especially manufacturing and small commodities sectors, which rely significantly on international trade. However, the general performance of tourism went pretty well in 2009.

With China’s strong domestic buying power and traffic flow, visitors to Guangzhou reached 118 million, a 6.3 percent rise compared to the year before. Total tourism receipts were $15 billion, representing an 18.6 percent increase. While international inbound travel to Guangzhou decreased last year, the United States — our second-largest international source market after Japan — performed surprisingly well; even under the vulnerable economic situation, the drop was less than 1 percent.

What Advantages Can Guangzhou Offer To Business Travelers Coming To South China?

At least four business advantages leap to mind. First: location. Situated in the center of South China and neighboring Hong Kong and Macau, Guangzhou enjoys easy access to all the key points in the Pearl River Delta and Pan Pearl Delta Region.

Second: an outstanding transportation network. With over 100 international air routes, Guangzhou’s airport is now the biggest in China, and it is expected to accommodate 40 million passengers in 2010.

Third: a sound business environment. Of the top 500 multinationals, 140 have established presences in Guangzhou, and there are about 37 consulate-generals from various countries in the city.

Fourth: a well-established visitor infrastructure. There are 256 star-rated hotels in Guangzhou, including 14 that are 5-star and 34 that are 4-star.

What Is The Impact Of The Twice-annual Canton Fair?

With a 53-year history, the Canton Fair is the largest and most comprehensive international trade fair in China. It is an iconic calling card for the city of Guangzhou. Currently, business travel dominates all other forms of inbound travel to Guangzhou, with the Canton Fair a primary factor. The Fair contributes nearly $5 billion annually to the economy of Guangzhou, meaning direct expenses of $800 million spent by visitors and business organizations. During the Fair hotel occupancy reaches 100 percent and room rates can skyrocket, so it is best to book well ahead.

How Will The 2010 Asian Games Affect Guangzhou Now And In The Future?

It’s a golden opportunity for Guangzhou to showcase the city’s potential. Investment for the Asian Games will add $120 billion to the local gross domestic product, with direct investment for the Games creating 304,000 jobs. With an estimated 150,000 international and 500,000 domestic tourists in Guangzhou during the Asian Games, international awareness of the city will also be boosted. In preparation for the Games, the city’s transport network, telecommunications systems and tourism facilities have all been upgraded, along with improvements in the quality of its air and waterways.

The tourism industry is expected to continue to benefit well after the Games. According to the city’s strategic plan, by 2012 Guangzhou will become one of the region’s most-visited cities, generating $15 billion in tourist dollars, including foreign receipts of over $3.4 billion.


FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.


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