World-class concerts and operas set to enhance Shanghai's attractiveness as an international tourist destination


Shanghai is adding a new dimension to its efforts to develop its appeal as a popular international tourist destination – organising world-class artistic performances to attract opera lovers and musical aficionados.

Hosting highbrow shows from opera and drama to orchestral and dance performances fits the bill perfectly for the development of cultural tourism the city is pursuing, according to Yang Jialu, vice-president of the Center for China Shanghai International Arts Festival, an organisation under the Shanghai Administration of Culture and Tourism.

She said this year's festival that ran for a month from October 15 provided a vivid example of how top-notch concerts and symphonies can boost the city's travel sector.

Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.

“Shanghai hopes to create a synergy between culture and tourism,” she told the Post. “Cultural products are introduced to promote tourism. In return, a booming tourism industry can be tapped to spur development of cultural products.”

The Shanghai International Arts Festival, first held in 1999, featured 72 different productions this year – 12 of them international premieres – that between them staged around 1,000 shows that attracted an audience of six million. A survey by the organiser showed that 10 per cent of those in attendance were either from other parts of the country or abroad.

Globally renowned artists including celebrated tenor Placido Domingo and Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, as well as award-winning shows such as the musical The Last Five Years not only drew sell-out crowds, but attracted a vast number of young fans – a sure sign that classical music is gaining in popularity in Shanghai, Yang said.

“I have confidence in reaching the conclusion that the top art shows have played an effective role in boosting the city's cultural tourism,” she said. “Art is in every way instrumental in bolstering the economy and stimulating consumer spending.”

Yang said the art festival's organiser would bring more world-class cultural events to the city next year while promoting classical music among young consumers.

Fang Shizhong, director of the Shanghai Administration of Culture and Tourism, told Xinhua News last week that the art festival helped elevate the status of Shanghai – known as a gateway city for foreign visitors to enter the Chinese mainland – as a global centre of commerce, as it draws an increasing number of overseas visitors each year.

The integration of culture and tourism forms part of the city's efforts to create new growth engines for the local economy, he added.

Over the past two decades, affluent Chinese people's soaring demand for culture has made Western hit movies and stage shows high earners in Shanghai's cinemas and theatres.

The entertainment businesses in the mainland's financial and commercial hub were disrupted between 2020 and 2022 by the Covid-19 pandemic.

But there are signs of a recovery in the city's classical art show market.

A total of 22,000 shows held in the first half of 2023 drew an audience of 12 million people, up by a quarter from the same period of 2019, before the pandemic. They generated box-office receipts of 832 million yuan (US$115.4 million), an increase of 16.5 per cent from 2019.

The Shanghai municipal government has been striving to get the tourism sector back up and running since China reopened its international borders after the coronavirus pandemic in the first quarter of 2023. Its efforts have included the launch of China's first self-built cruise ship, named Magic City after a nickname for Shanghai, and a cruise service on the once-stinking Suzhou Creek, known as the city's “mother river”.

(South China Morning Post Publishers Limited)