When it comes to Shenzhen, the incredible pace and scale of development sometimes means we have become used to its record-breaking accomplishments. But the “smart venue” truly has the potential to be a game changer for not just the China events industry, but the world’s.
Unlike the white elephant developments of a decade ago, Shenzhen World has a business model that is already paying dividends. The project is a partnership between the Shenzhen government, Zhaohua International Exhibition Operation Co.Ltd. (itself a JV between giants China Merchant Group and OCT Group) and US-based venue management specialist SMG. And recently it was announced that China Telecom, Huawei and Tencent would be working with Shenzhen World on its “innovative service platform”.
We talk to WeMeet founder and Shenzhen World advisor Gu Xuebin about what this means for the future of the industry.
What makes Shenzhen World significant beyond its size?
The world-class operation and management of Shenzhen World is the fundamental driver. If you want to call [your project] a world-class venue, it means the operation also needs to have world-class design. This is why “smart venue” was part of the planning and now they’re building on it. They’re selecting top-class companies like Huawei and Tencent to help them achieve this goal.
The goal of the working with Huawei and Tencent is to create world-class operating systems that will help the venue to serve organisers, exhibitors and attendees better. Traditionally, venues have organisers and contractors as their direct client. Zhaohua does not only consider Shenzhen World a pure convention venue, it also includes 11 pieces of commercial land with hotels, office and retail. They consider this an all-in-one commercial development.
To simply call it a “smart venue” is not really enough to describe what they are trying to do. How do you really measure a smart venue? How do you rate it as world-class? The experience of the visitor is the solo measurement of this standard. In China, having WeChat-powered smart venue solutions is nearly a must-do, but how to help Shenzhen World really enhance people’s experience is a key focus right now.
What will this mean for event participants?
It is a little bit early to say anything specific, but Shenzhen World has identified eight core areas to help their attendees to have a better experience. For example, catering. If you picture the venue in full operation, the maximum capacity is more than 200,000 people. As a venue of this size how do you really make sure people have the food they would like within a certain amount of time so they can spend more time at their booth or meetings instead of lining up?
They would like to go world-class [in finding solutions], and they have identified experience as the core measurement. They selected China Telecom and Huawei to help them with world-class hardware such as network infrastructure. Tencent will help them design a world-class innovative service platform – that’s a key word because in the past many other venues don’t consider attendees as their direct client. Shenzhen World would like to have an interface to serve exhibitors and attendees directly, but without having their sensitive data, with the sole goal of enhancing their experience.
Both Huawei and Tencent are group-level strategic partners of China Merchant Group, so this is a natural extension of their partnership. This is how Shenzhen is completing such a venue in such a short time.
Tencent is also facing competition so it is utilising this opportunity to get into the event industry. They are realising the power of events and venues.
I’ve been working on the tech side of the event industry for 17 years now. Globally our industry has been trying to find a way to really innovate itself, the timing is finally coming now in China because the whole country is really innovating. In the US, Amazon bought Whole Foods—the same is happening in China. For me it’s very interesting, I’ve been waiting long enough to see this innovation!
The big tech companies in China are re-organising their internal resources because the MICE industry has two unique values: number one, the industry itself is interesting and big enough; and two, the industry has a unique value to become a channel or engagement vehicle to engage [other] industries through our industry. This is something very unique to watch and pay attention to.
Tencent did a major restructure of its organisation October last year, they formed a new business, Cloud and Service Industry Group (CSIG), so that is how they are helping Shenzhen World on smart-venue design. Tencent is also facing competition so it is utilising this opportunity to get into the event industry. They are realising the power of events and venues.
What was the impetus behind the Global MICE Innovation Summit you organised in January?
Shenzhen is all about innovation, this is why we organise this MICE Innovation Summit. Huawei, Tencent and Shenzhen World were all speaking, sponsoring or co-organising. Most venues rely on organisers to bring shows to them, but Shenzhen World positions itself to provide space for organisers to serve their industry in an innovative way. We will organise this summit every year in January in Shenzhen.
The significance of Shenzhen World is one thing, that our industry is really trying to innovate itself not only by building the largest and the smartest venue, but also to do things in an innovative way. And because of this, finally our industry is attracting giant tech companies’ attention.