Southern China’s Greater Bay Area is set to offer an amalgamation of exciting commercial opportunities, outsized event venues and diverse leisure activities
Today, many are looking to a new region practically on the doorstep of the international financial hub of Hong Kong. This comes in the form of the Greater Bay Area (GBA), whose most tangible symbol is the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge (HZMB), an engineering feat that helps string together a potential market of around 70 million people across nine municipalities in China’s southern Guangdong province and two Special Administrative Regions: Hong Kong and Macau.
Under the GBA plan, each city will have its own specialisation. Hong Kong is expected to continue its role as banking, finance and logistics hub; neighbouring Shenzhen will increase its profile as China’s Silicon Valley; Zhuhai is set to adopt the mantle of an aviation hub; while Macau will build on its role as a resort and cultural destination, and as China’s conduit to the Portuguese-speaking world.
For business travellers and international event planners, the GBA now represents a whole new destination in which dual or multiple events can be held across different cities thanks to the enhanced connectivity in the region. For example, with the new HZMB in operation, it’s possible to go to an exhibition in Hong Kong in the morning, attend a meeting held in Zhuhai in the afternoon, before joining a gala dinner at an integrated resort in Macau.
One-hour living circle
The Outline Development Plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area published in February 2019 has outlined the goal of building a rapid transport network in the area with a focus on connecting the mainland area with Hong Kong and Macau, as well as connecting the east and west banks of the Pearl River Estuary.
With a rapid intercity transport network consisting of airports, high-speed rail, intercity railway links, high-grade expressways and ferry services, it’s expected that the travel time between major cities within the GBA will be reduced to one hour or less. This will make the “one-hour living circle” within the GBA a reality.
The GBA is home to three large international airports located in Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) and Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN) were among the busiest airports in the world in 2018 (the eighth and the 13th respectively) in terms of passenger traffic.
Other major airports in the area include Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport (SZX), Macau International Airport (MFM) and Zhuhai Jinwan Airport (ZUH). What’s more, a second international airport in Guangzhou is currently in the planning stage.
A terminal linking Hong Kong to mainland China’s high-speed rail network opened in 2018. The 142km Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) has one station in the Hong Kong section (West Kowloon Station), and six in the mainland section, including Guangzhou South and Shenzhen North, two of the largest railway stations in the GBA. Through this high-speed rail service, Hong Kong is now directly connected to 58 mainland stations.
The high-speed rail journey from Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Station to Guangzhou South Railway Station only takes 47 minutes, compared with two hours or more on trains running between Hong Kong’s Hung Hom Terminus and Guangzhou East Railway Station (though this is closer to Guangzhou’s city centre).
Intercity railway is also known as the regional rail in China. There are three intercity railway lines in the GBA: Guangzhou-Zhuhai, Guangzhou-Foshan-Zhaoqing and Dongguan-Huizhou.
The Guangzhou-Zhuhai intercity railway is currently the longest regional rail in the GBA, linking Guangzhou South and Zhuhai Railway Station near the Zhuhai-Macau border, via Shunde, Zhongshan and Jiangmen. An extended section between Zhuhai and Zhuhai airport via Hengqin is currently under construction. The Hengqin Extension Line of Macau’s Light Rapid Transit, which is in planning, is expected to connect with Hengqin Station on the extended section as well.
There are several intercity railway lines in planning or under construction, including the Guangzhou-Dongguan-Shenzhen line that will connect Guangzhou’s Baiyun airport, Shenzhen’s Bao’an airport and the Qianhai pilot free trade zone; the Foshan-Dongguan line; and the Guangzhou-Foshan circular line.
Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge (HZMB)
The 55km-long HZMB is the world’s longest cross-sea bridge, linking its eponymous three cities together by land for the first time.
The launch of the HZMB shortens the time needed for travel between Hong Kong and cities in the western part of Guangdong province. There are customs and immigration procedures at ports on either side of the bridge, and regular coach services serve routes across the bridge between Hong Kong and both Macau and Zhuhai.
Road bridges over the Pearl River Estuary
Before the new Nansha Bridge opened to traffic in April 2019, Humen Bridge was the only road bridge linking the eastern and western sides of the Pearl River Estuary.
Nansha Bridge now links Dongguan’s Shatian Town and Guangzhou’s Nansha district, helping to ease the heavy traffic on Humen Bridge. It is also connected to major expressways in the GBA such as the Guangzhou Ring Expressway and Guangzhou-Shenzhen Coastal Expressway.
A third road bridge spanning the Pearl River Estuary – the Shenzhen-Zhongshan Bridge – is now under construction. Slated to enter into service in 2024, it will connect its two eponymous cities directly and is expected to reduce travel times between them from two hours to around 20 minutes.
A number of companies provide cross-boundary coach services between Hong Kong and many cities in Guangdong province. This kind of coach service provides a more direct travel option and offers a nearly point-to-point connection, though passengers travelling on coaches need to alight with their baggage at the immigration control points on the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border for immigration formalities before changing to another coach bound for their destination.
Travellers need to book or purchase the tickets online or at bricks-and-mortar stores. Hong Kong start-up Go By Bus offers English-language information about these cross-boundary coaches for non-Chinese speakers.
Cross-boundary ferry services
In addition to the regular ferry service between Hong Kong and Macau, there are also ferry services available within the GBA, including cross-boundary routes linking Hong Kong or Macau with other mainland cities in the area.
Major ferry terminals in the area include the Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Terminal and China Ferry Terminal in Hong Kong, the Taipa and Maritime Ferry Terminals in Macau, Guangzhou’s Nansha Port and Lianhuashan Port, Shenzhen’s Shekou Port, Zhuhai’s Jiuzhou Port, Dongguan’s Humen Port, as well as Shunde Port.
Hong Kong International Airport and Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport both have their own ferry terminal (Skypier and Fuyong, respectively) as well, offering ferry transfer services to other destinations in the GBA. Passengers taking ferries to Hong Kong airport can collect their boarding pass, check baggage and get their tax refund coupon at select ferry terminals in the area, though this depends on the airline they are travelling with.
Diverse bleisure destinations
Hong Kong is an international financial hub with two major event and exhibition venues – the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) and Asia-World Expo (AWE). While the HKCEC benefits from a downtown location, AWE, situated on Lantau Island, stands alongside Hong Kong airport and routes onto the HZMB, and is the home of the city’s mega events and larger trade shows. For excursions, Lantau, Hong Kong’s largest island, is home to the city’s Disneyland resort and the Big Buddha statue. It is renowned for its mountains and sites like Tai O, a traditional fishing village featuring stilt homes and restaurants.
Macau is slated to get a new convention centre in 2021. The new Galaxy International Convention Centre (GICC) will feature a 16,000-seat arena as part of the latest phase of Galaxy Macau Resort. It is set to compete with other Cotai venues such as The Venetian, Melco’s Studio City and MGM Cotai.
The provincial capital city is the home of the Canton Fair, which is also known as the China Import and Export Fair and is held twice a year (from mid-April to early May, and from mid-October to early November) in the Pazhou Complex. In terms of leisure options, there’s the new Sunac Resort that opened in June 2019 in the city’s northern Huadu district near Guangzhou North Railway Station and Baiyun Airport. This new integrated resort consists of an indoor ski and snow park, indoor water park, amusement park, shopping mall and hotels.
Shenzhen now has its second exhibition centre. Located next to Bao’an International Airport, the new Shenzhen World Exhibition and Convention Centre is billed as the world’s largest exhibition and conference venue. The inaugural Greater Bay Industrial Expo was held in the new exhibition centre in late November 2019 as one of its very first events.
Zhuhai is also growing rapidly as one of the key cities in the GBA. Particularly, Hengqin, an island located right next to Macau, is home to an elite international tennis centre, as well as large entertainment and meeting spaces including Chimelong and Novotown. The city’s major convention venue, Zhuhai International Convention and Exhibition Centre (ZHICEC) is also adding a second phase of event and retail space. With views across to Macau, ZHICEC also has a European-style classical opera house and forms part of a precinct featuring a Sheraton and The St Regis.
Other GBA cities
The Pearl River Delta is considered the cradle of Cantonese culture and cuisine. For example, Shunde is renowned for its Cantonese cuisine and was appointed a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy in 2014. It’s also famous as the ancestral home of kung fu legend Bruce Lee. What’s more, Shunde, along with Zhongshan, Dongguan and Nanhai, are known as the little tigers of southern China’s manufacturing economy.
Martin Donovan and Jackie Chen