Chengdu: Boom town

6 Dec 2016 by Jeremy Tredinnick
Chengdu, China

First impressions

The drive into Chengdu from busy Shuangliu International Airport seems to follow the usual pattern found in modern Chinese cities, along a wide, well-built expressway lined with car dealers ranging from Mazda and Honda to Mercedes, Maserati and Bentley. The city skyline appears up ahead, a typical forest of soaring towers… but then we turn north towards an even larger urban sprawl and I realise that that was merely part of the Tianfu New Area that has grown so fast in the last few years. This planned 1,578 sq km city – under Chengdu’s jurisdiction – will comprise seven zones focusing on manufacturing, high-tech, innovation and R&D industries, as well as scenic water and mountain areas to make it appealing as a liveable new urban centre.

A city with more than 4,000 years of history as the focal point of the fertile Sichuan Basin, Chengdu has seen its share of change over the millennia, but never on a scale like this. “Three years ago I came here and the only international hotels were Sofitel Wanda and the Shangri-La [there was a Sheraton too], but look at it now, see how many hotels there are,” says Khan Sung, general manager of the brand-new JW Marriott Chengdu.

The old downtown district north of the Jinjiang River is still the cultural and business centre, but four subway lines now transport its population of 7.8 million out to sprawling suburbs and secondary urban centres, while Chengdu’s population over its entire administrative area is 14 million. Somehow though, it still maintains a more easygoing, relaxed atmosphere than the east coast cities. Residents of Chengdu have a reputation for valuing quality of life, manifested in the city’s teahouse culture and peoples’ love of communal discourse and the arts.

Economy and infrastructure

According to the latest figures from the Chengdu Municipal Bureau of Statistics, the city’s GDP exceeded RMB1 trillion (US$146.8 billion) in 2015, a year-on-year
increase of 7.9 per cent, 1 percent higher than the national average. Much of this is due to growth in the automotive and pharmaceutical industries, but increasingly IT and modern service industries are muscling in on the commercial landscape, especially in areas like the Hi-Tech Zone in the Tianfu New Area.

Chengdu was at the forefront of China’s “Go West” campaign that began at the turn of the 21st century, and has since become a land and air gateway to Europe, the Middle East and Africa for Chinese business.

In July this year a freight train left Chengdu loaded with electronics and motor parts and headed to Lodz in Poland, from where the goods were distributed to Germany, the Netherlands and Slovakia. Less than a month later it returned, bringing goods from Italy, France and Spain. This route is part of China’s so-called “One Belt, One Road” initiative to create a modern “Silk Road”, a Eurasian Land Bridge comprising rail and road networks linking China’s east coast with Europe across Central Asia. Export commodities from Shenzhen, Xiamen, Ningbo and Kunming will now have a route to European markets through Chengdu, making it a key transport hub.

The city also has major aviation ambitions. In May construction began on the RMB70 billion (US$10.2 billion) Chengdu Tianfu International Airport, a major national civil aviation project. The new airport will be located in Jianyang City, around 50 kilometres south of Chengdu and the same distance from the city’s current Shuangliu International Airport. It is scheduled to be finished by 2020, and will cater to the economic growth of Chengdu, the Tianfu New Area and Chongqing, all of which will be connected to it by improved or new road and rail networks.

The need for a second airport for the city and province is easy to see. Shuangliu airport’s passenger throughput reached 40 million in 2015, and is projected to rise to 60 million by 2020 – the second airport will eventually be able to handle up to 60 million passengers per year, and the combination of the two will cement Chengdu’s status as the fourth largest state-level aviation hub after Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

“Growth is expected at a similar pace [to recent years] for the next couple of years since plans were announced to further upgrade the city and its transportation network,” says Priscilla Wong, residence manager of IFS Residences. “Chengdu will become increasingly internationalised when its second airport opens in 2020; more air routes to Asia, Europe, North America and Africa will generate even more investment in the city.”

During the World Routes 2016 forum in September this year, agreements were signed for nine new international air routes between Chengdu and other parts of the world. There are already six direct flights from Chengdu to European cities, while Hainan Airlines plans to launch direct flights to Los Angeles and New York (United already flies direct to Chengdu from San Francisco). Meanwhile, Air China will add to its Australia network – it already flies to Melbourne – with a new non-stop route to Sydney, and Sichuan Airlines is planning a new route to Auckland, New Zealand.

The Temple House's Mi Xun Teahouse courtyard

Where to stay

Niccolo Chengdu

Connected to the huge IFS shopping mall and facing the outdoor luxury shopping precinct of Tai Koo Li, this 230-room “contemporary urban chic” hotel opened in April 2015 and houses a wide range of gorgeous art, as well as offering unique event space like the oval glass Conservatory and the Sky Garden. marcopolohotels.com

Grand Hyatt Chengdu

This 390-room hotel opened in July, and occupies floors 10 to 39 of a tower in the midst of the Chunxi Road shopping district. Designed in a “French mansion style”, its 3,000 sqm of event space includes nine comfortable meeting rooms called the “Residence”, plus the Palais ballroom with a Versailles-style outdoor terrace garden. The evocative No 8 restaurant, designed like a local market, adds appeal. chengdu.grand.hyatt.com

Wanda Reign Chengdu

Located by the Jinjiang River, the hotel opened in December 2015 and boasts a 41st-floor lobby with great views, a gold chandelier and beautifully carved jade wall. Room designs cover three categories – Urban Elegance, Cosmopolitan Chic and Chinese Luxury – and more than 50 types of marble have been used throughout this opulently designed and furnished hotel. wandahotels.com

IFS Residences

Rising above its namesake high-end shopping mall, this luxury serviced apartment complex opened 150 of its units in November this year, with as many more scheduled to be ready by early next year. Its prime location and emphasis on privacy – all its facilities are for in-house residents’ exclusive use – make it a top long-stay option in the city. ifsresidences.com

The Temple House

Occupying one corner of the Tai Koo Li luxury shopping precinct, The Temple House is part renovated heritage temple, part gleaming smoked-glass towers. Its 100 rooms and 42 serviced residences sport minimalist décor, while its underground pool, gym and meeting rooms cleverly use skylights to great effect. An eclectic temple of style. thetemplehousehotel.com

Shangri-La, Chengdu

A 593-room hotel near the river and close to the famous Anshun Lang covered bridge, this was one of the earliest international brands to open in Chengdu (2007). The Horizon Club rooms and lounge occupy high floors with sweeping views over the city. shangri-la.com

The St Regis Chengdu

This luxury property opened in 2014 near Tianfu Square, offering 279 plush rooms in the brand’s typical style, as well as a unique (to the city) combination of indoor and outdoor pools, and the impressive Iridium Spa boasting advanced tech machines. starwoodhotels.com

Hilton Chengdu

The Hilton opened in September 2015 on Tianfu Avenue south of the city, in what is swiftly becoming a major business centre in the Tianfu New Area. Close to the New Century Global Center, this 315-room hotel in one of the Seaton Plaza towers offers executive rooms from floors 32 to 37, and the executive lounge provides panoramic views. A top-floor gym and pool are the highest in Chengdu. hilton.com

JW Marriott Chengdu

Opened in mid-October and offering 345 rooms and suites in a very central location close to Tianfu Square, the main selling point of the hotel is its large ballroom with floor-to-ceiling windows on one side and an accompanying roof garden. “We are focusing on the MICE business sector, which brings in comprehensive revenue across F&B, accommodation and events facilities,” says Pearl Tan, the hotel’s director of marketing. marriott.com

Fraser Suites Chengdu

This popular, centrally located serviced apartment property offers 360 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and extensive leisure offerings, from a “Retreat room” with six full-massage chairs to a snooker table room, indoor pool and extensive outdoor barbecue terrace. chengdu.frasershospitality.com

Other properties

South of the river along South Renmin Road you will pass the Somerset Riverview, Ascott Raffles CityKempinski (undergoing renovation next year), Oakwood, Renaissance, Days Hotel & Suites and a Howard Johnson. On the right is the New Century Global Center – the largest building in the world by floor area (1.76 million sqm) – which includes two Intercontinentals, while closer to the Hilton, new arrivals include a Fairmont and the Marriott Hotel Financial Centre, which opened in November.

A Waldorf Astoria is scheduled to launch in March 2017 near the New Century Global Center, whilst a Four Points by Sheraton is planned to open in the Hi-Tech Zone in 2018 – two other Four Points properties are already operational in Chengdu. Finally, the Lanson Place Tianfu Square Serviced Residences opened in the city centre this year, to add competition in the growing serviced apartment market.

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