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The southeast corner of China is home to a triangle of major cities: Guangzhou, Macao and Hong Kong. Together they are the 21st century version of what the area has always been – a center of trade. In fact, Guangzhou was the original gateway to the China and the only legal trading site when China opened to Western trade in the 1600s.

China’s most important southern port since 618, Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, launched the Maritime Silk Road centuries ago. But the junks and sleek sailing vessels of yesterday have given way to legions of skyscrapers marching down either side of the Pearl River. The river meanders south before spilling into the South China Sea where Macao and Hong Kong are raucous sentinels on either side of the famed Pearl River Delta.

While still a hub for vast shipping networks, today’s nexus includes Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN) where China Southern (CZ), the country’s largest passenger carrier, operates its hub. It actively markets its beyond service between the New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles through CAN to points throughout Asia and the Indian subcontinent.

CAN takes on additional importance with recent news that American Airlines (AA) is acquiring 2.76 percent of China Southern for $200 million. China, the fastest growing market in the world, has always been a vast white spot on American’s global map. Taking a stake in the state-owned carrier connects the world’s two largest markets at a time when China is expected to surpass the US by 2035. The challenge will be finding slots at CAN to expand the current partnership beyond Shanghai and Peking.

Business Epicenter

Given its history as the only trading site for Westerners, it is not surprising it was the epicenter of the US/Europe-China industrial/outsourcing revolution decades ago. While robotics have leveled the labor-cost playing field with both the US and Europe, Guangdong is still a powerful economic engine with GDP and foreign trade volume each exceeding $1 trillion.

Guangzhou is host to four major annual business events including the China Import Export Fair, the China International Tourism Industry Expo, the China High-Tech Fair and the China International Cultural Industries Fair offering much for both new and veteran business travelers to the region.

But tourism is also big with revenue exceeding $15 billion in 2015, up 11.8 percent year on year. As a measure of its place as an international destination, foreign currency earnings from tourism hit $17 billion, up 4.8 percent. It has become one of the most important tourist destinations in the Asia-Pacific region, unsurprising given the heavy investment in tourism infrastructure.

The province – made up of four areas including East, West and North Guangdong and the Pearl River Delta – has eight airports serving 400 domestic and 150 international destinations. There are 938 star hotels including 116 five-star properties. It has 293 national A-Class tourist attractions, so designated by the China National Tourism Administration, 11 top-of-the-line 5-A class attractions, 130 large hot-spring resorts and 80 golf courses.

The area is part of a no-visa program in which visitors can stay 144 hours – six days or less – without a visa, making travel to the triangle of Pearl River Delta cities relatively easy.

By Kathryn B. Creedy

Guangdong has branded its experience four ways – as a dynamic business center and the center for its distinctive Lingnan culture. It is also a major holiday destination complete with international theme parks and more than 4,000 kilometers of balmy beaches along the Gold Coast. Finally, it sees itself as a food paradise where Eastern and Western cuisines meet.

A Decade of Building

We spent much of our time in Zhujiang New Town, transformed in less than a decade from sleepy rural farmland into a vast complex of massive skyscrapers rivaling those in the Middle East in height. The New City, as it is called, is one of many areas in the city combining residential, hotel and office high rises. At its center lies Zhujiang Park – think New York’s Central Park surrounded by mid-town Manhattan. In the park are the opera house, a children’s palace, a library and the Guangdong Museum.

The museum gives you a sense of the old Canton and highlights three folk cultures including Guangfu, Chaozhou-Santou and Hakka. Displays feature the fine artistry of Chinese paper cutting, porcelain and bronze work as well as wood and bone carvings. A section includes a full size sailing vessel, import and export goods from the era along with paintings of the Canton Harbor.

Outside, an open plaza takes you down to the Pearl River but along the way are underground shopping, a people mover system and vehicular tunnels. The area also contains Canton Tower, which, at 1,954 feet, rival the twin towers on either side of the plaza.

At the base is a shopping area but elevators whisk you on the outside of the building to a elliptical space where it is not unusual to see brides with their stylist entourages preparing for photo.