SevenStreets hasn’t been invited to the Shanghai World Expo, to meet and greet in the Liverpool pavilion. We don’t move in such rarefied circles. We’ve never sexy networked, and we don’t have Dean Sullivan on speed dial.
Still, we live in hope.
Warren Lustig is a New York based travel writer (CNN traveler, New York Times etc) and a SevenStreets global correspondent (OK, we met him on a press trip to Iceland once, and we exhange Chanukah cards. But that’s as good as.)
Lustig’s just returned from a CNN-sponsored trip to the expo, and, naturally, we were all ears. Following London’s departure due to a funding shortage, what, we wondered was the reaction to the soul UK city exhibiting in the ‘Business Olympics’?
“Put it this way, if you hadn’t told me Liverpool was exhibiting, I’d never have known,” Lustig began, darkly.
“The expo site is huge. I mean, the size of Brooklyn or something,” Lustig says (and we thought all geographic denominations were marked in ‘Wales’ units).
“Most of the action, and all of the highlights, are on the south side of the Huangpu river. Liverpool’s pavilion is way, way out on the dull side of the river. And few press trips ever venture over there, because it’s such a schlep…”
Not so our trusty reporter.
So, perilous ten minute crossing of the mighty Huangpu later, and what of the expected £50million of new business the pavilion was promised to deliver from our twin city in the east?
“Didn’t see much of that. There were a couple of Chinese businessmen having a game of soccer, and a tray of plastic cups with what looked like dog food in them.”
Seems that, when it comes to the Business Olympics, though, we’ve got an ace up our sleeve. At least, that’s the plan. For the Liverpool Pavilion (or, to give it its full Chinese title ‘Protection and Utilisation of Historical Heritages in Liverpool’) it’s all about our past form…
“You get the definite impression it’s promoting Paul McCartney, not the city,” Lustig says.
“There’s an introductory video, by the great man himself, and the only things he name checks are the Beatles and the school of performing arts that ‘I set up myself’.”
Double thumbs aloft.
The Pavilion, about the size of ‘a drive-though McDonalds’ (nice image) is kitted out like a shipping crate. Nice touch. With murals of Liverpool FC players, zebra-crossing Beatles and twinkling skylines. There’s a ‘departure lounge’ from where visitors are whisked on a journey through time and space: showing how we’ve transformed ourselves from maritime powerhouse, through silted-up back-waters and on to resurgent pleasure dome.
But, mostly, it’s balls.
“There’s a lot of soccer. And a heck of a lot of LFC kits being worn by the visitors. I’m not sure how much actual business was going on though,” Lustig says. “It does look like it’s a pavilion about football and music, not about a cutting-edge metropolis.”
“The overall impression was that this was a city which likes to play. Not sure it says it likes to work, too.”
Sounds about right.
But is this a bad thing? SevenStreets doesn’t necessarily think so. We’re all players, these days. And tourism – especially from China and the east – is crucial to our future economy. Far more so, we’d dare to say, than a new Range Rover with soft furnishings designed by Victoria Beckham. Let’s face it, Shanghai might be an excellent host, but it would happily stab us in the back to clinch an international plastic injection moulding contract, twin city or not.
But there are other cities alongside Liverpool in the ‘Urban Best Practice’ zone – from Venice to Barcelona, Cairo to Vancouver. And they’re all after a slice of the tourism cake. So if the Beatles and Gerrard are our Rialto Bridge and Great Pyramids, then it seems sensible enough to big-up our USPs.
And, to be fair to our correspondent, the sharp end of the pavilion – the board rooms and the private meetings suites – is where the wheeling and dealing is taking place.
Over 60 regional businesses have chipped in to make the Pavilion a reality and, no doubt when Shanghai teens were kicking balls past a virtual Pepe Reina, there were feverish negotiations taking place. Let’s hope so, anyway. But doubtless, that’s all about the money: Peel holdings are known to be keen to scoop up investment for their ambitious ‘Wirral Waters’ plan, to transform Seacombe into, well, into Shanghai…
The pavilion is attracting about 1,650 visitors a day, and, according to the Financial Times, exit polls show that 80 per cent marked us as ‘very good or excellent’.
Although, crucially, while 85 per cent of visitors said they’d like to visit Liverpool, only five per cent would consider trading or investing here.
With the NWDA helping to raise the expected £2.8million our season in Shanghai is costing, there’s a lot of emphasis on Liverpool being the ‘gateway’ to the North West. No such thing as an NWDA cheque without strings attached. But, really, run that exit poll again and ask ‘em how many people want to visit Warrington or Preston – or even, dare we say it, Manchester, and what’s the betting the figures would be less impressive.
There is no doubt, Liverpool is still a global brand. And if any nation loves a western brand, it’s China. And if any Chinese city loves a western brand, it’s Shanghai. So maybe, just maybe, there’s some joined-up thinking in this eastern adventure after all.
But let’s leave the final thought to our man in Shanghai. What, we asked, was his lasting impression of the Liverpool Pavilion?
“Chinese kids love The Beatles Rock Band game,” he says…
“Oh, and what’s that freaky dinosaur thing with a big tail. That was weird…”
Superlambanana? Now that’s definitely something that would be lost in translation…