As the nation’s Belt & Road initiative gathers pace, the capital is abuzz with activity. The events industry is keen to capitalise on the momentum – and better link it with corporate development.
“Beijing has the capacity to wow a leadership meeting with a very boutique experience, and to welcome thousands of delegates to large conferences,” says Tina Li, senior events project manager at BI Worldwide China. “On the large numbers, we see more launches and activations open to the public, which is a great improvement and opens so many opportunities.”
Li finds that smaller luxury hotel brands are attracting new groups as well as bringing back others for a new experience. “Hotels like Chao and Nuo have stunning venues to hold an event,” she says. “Fashion brands and luxury automobile launches have already caught that. More and more lifestyle brands and properties like Rosewood and Bulgari are also in, which is a great sign of the market becoming more mature.”
Hotel event teams are also becoming more sophisticated. “Hotels are offering a lot of tailored catering items for events,” says Li. “For example, as logo stuff is no longer a wow element, chefs have started baking cookies or cakes as the real shape of consumer products, and bartenders are pouring fresh juices into tailored bottles that can be taken away as souvenirs.”
Li says smaller and higher-level groups are now more drawn to Beijing itself for its boutique and design experiences. “Whether they are local or international, our attendees crave local discoveries, natural landscapes and a slower rhythm.”
Vincent Thong, general manager at Sheraton Grand Beijing Dongcheng Hotel, says: “Seeing Peking Opera, going to Nan Luo Gu Xiang for shopping and snacks, visiting Gui Jie for spicy crayfish are all things that can’t be found elsewhere.
“National and niche private art galleries such as UCCA are attracting the younger crowd. For a more general demographic, old-style streets such as Baochao Hutong, Wudaoying Hutong and Fangjia Hutong, are attracting attention for their ancient architect styles, gourmet restaurants, bars and cafés, and indie designer shops.”
Hotels stepping up
Hotels are also responding to increased requests for healthy menus, access to local food and experiences, creative venues and high-tech equipment.
The Westin Beijing Financial Street has opened its Zen Garden for casual cocktail events and is providing superfood-themed breaks with an emphasis on presentation.
The Peninsula Beijing completed its US$123 million transformation in January last year, dropping its room count from 525 to 230 in order to become an all-suite experience. Its luxe new interiors are dotted with original Chinese artworks, and the hotel now takes groups on tours of local art museums. It also offers 24-hour check-in and check-out – say goodbye to complicated logistics around arrival and departure times.
Meanwhile, Conrad Beijing is celebrating its fifth anniversary by opening its presidential suite for events. The 28th-floor party pad offers a dining room for 10, full-service kitchen, study den and an impressive glass-walled living room with 270-degree views across Tuanjie Lake, the iconic CCTV tower, and the Beijing skyline.
Elsewhere, Hotel Jen Beijing attracts groups looking for interactive elements and functional spaces (think chandelier-free). But the highlight is its ‘Local Rituals’ experience where smaller groups can explore the old hutongs by bicycle. Stop at historic attractions and experience ‘hidden gems’ not found in guidebooks.
While the pollution can still be an issue, new products have sprung up on the city’s outskirts offering fresh, green surrounds.
“For our local attendees, we see a great interest for properties outside the city,” says Li. “The market is very hungry to discover the natural wonders around Beijing, not only the Great Wall. What C-level groups did 10 years ago, the larger public is now asking for, and several brands have listened.
“Places like Beijing Water Town enable people to experience the peaceful and green life easily. [For a recent event], our guests were in a luxury, secluded hotel for better concentration, but they had the opportunity to escape into nature just a few minutes away.”