– As a year of global recession closes, the world looks for glimmers of hope – and nowhere is optimism flowing more freely than in the beleaguered Shanghai hotel business. Too many rooms + not enough visitors = falling occupancy and room rates. This, together with the prospect of several thousand new rooms about to be completed, sends wintry shivers through hoteliers’ numb limbs. They know the truth, but the suits at corporate HQ believe the hype – the Shanghai Expo will deliver numerous foreign visitors all looking for five-star rooms. Sound familiar? Remember the Olympics and those wildly fanciful visitor projections? It’s about to happen all over again. Happy Christmas, and in Shanghai at least, there will definitely be room at the inn.
– There appears to be a disconnect between the approaches to environmental protection in China and the West. Recently I took a group of interested foreigners to Chongming Island, where we were treated to a presentation on the island’s environmental specialness. So how come, one of the party asked, you’ve just built a massive bridge to the island allowing it to be flooded by cars and new construction projects? We were told the new bridge combo was intended to "allow the expansion of the environment on Chongming." How exactly thousands of cars and new construction was going to help the island’s fragile ecosystem was not explained.
– I heard another example of foreign companies having one rule at home and another in China the other day. A friend who works for a Western ad agency in Shanghai has been given three accounts – a whisky brand, a cigarette brand and a fast-food chain – and he’s not pleased to be promoting any of them. In the firm’s US office he would be allowed to opt out of working on tobacco or alcohol-related accounts, but not in China – it’s do the job or find another job.
– "Neighborhoods" is the new buzz word among the retail community in Shanghai. For years retailers have fought pitched battles over prime real estate across the city – convenience stores snapping up corners opposite each other; Starbucks snapping up both corners to keep the competition out. Who actually lives there has often been a secondary issue. But as the city sprawls over into never-ending suburbs, retailers are trying to sort out which neighbourhoods offer the best consumer opportunities. The problem is nobody has any data sufficiently micro (except perhaps the police) – the pace of destruction/construction in the city means getting info on who lives where is nigh on impossible. But a way must be found.
– A brief word on publishers in China. Penguin is going to push the English-language edition of Irish writer Colm Tóibin’s novel Brooklyn quite hard here. They believe that a) there’s a growing English language market and that Tóibin’s simple but effective prose is a perfect choice for these readers, and b) Brooklyn is a novel full of themes Chinese readers will appreciate – growing up in small towns, migrating to the big city, dislocation and home sickness, confronting modernity. Perhaps this is the start of a trend whereby publishers to look for books to push in their original language.
– A Ministry of Commerce official told me recently that he was feeling bullish as the year ends. He is delightedly surprised at how robust the Chinese consumer has turned out to be and is already cautiously optimistic about the January New Year holiday sales. But Beijing’s desire to push consumption levels ever higher is unstinting. Will the consumer power on regardless? I’ll revisit that point in 2010!