From the outset, executives from Galaxy Entertainment unabashedly positioned their 555,000sqm Asian-centric property on the Cotai Strip as a lifestyle, dining and entertainment destination, with no apparent ambition to target the lucrative business events sector. But a visit to the sprawling complex, a month after its opening in May, is enough to dispel this notion. The top brass at Banyan Tree Macau and Hotel Okura are not about to exclude this booming market from their customer portfolio.
“We are looking at 10 percent of our business to be coming from MICE groups,” says James Chow, director of sales and marketing at Banyan Tree Macau. “This is already an aggressive goal for a property in its first year of operation, but we are quite confident that we will be able to achieve this.”
The 256-room hotel has dedicated meetings facilities on the second floor, consisting of a 1,330sqm ballroom for up to 1,000 people and two conference rooms that can be divided into four smaller function rooms. The spacious Banyan Tree Spa with its 21 treatment rooms would be great for an intimate spa party and the Cabana Pool Bar is an outdoor venue with a pleasant ambience.
According to Chow, the hotel can block off between 15 and 50 rooms for a group. “We are going for small and medium-size groups. If we have two 50-room groups staying with us, that is already half our inventory.
“But you see, a meeting is a meeting. Hardware is hardware. What is really important for us as a hotel is to understand the underlying objectives of the event planner. We want to work with them to achieve those objectives and to deliver services that exceed expectations,” he adds.
Likewise, Harmen Dubbelaar, general manager of Hotel Okura is keen to welcome corporate groups on meetings and incentives to his 488-room property. “We are very interested in seeing new business coming to Macau. It is important for Cotai as a destination with three large integrated resorts that we interest new markets in the territory, as it has so much to offer,” he says.
The Japanese-style hotel has three function rooms with gorgeous interiors on the 28th floor, which can be configured to fit groups between 20 and 180 people. Its signature restaurant Yamazato has three private rooms, each with a seating capacity for 10 diners.
On weekdays, the hotel can allocate up to 40 percent of its guestrooms to corporate groups. “For larger functions, we would look at the whole Galaxy complex as one destination and cross-use the facilities of different hotels,” Dubbelaar says, adding that the event teams of the three hotels, including Galaxy Hotel, come together on a regular basis to discuss events whose programmes involve the whole complex.
He continues: “Regardless of whether we are handling an event as a single property or as part of a resort-wide project, it has to be a seamless experience for the client. It is not only about accommodation anymore. It is about upholding service standards when a meeting is in progress or when lunches and gala dinners are being served, among other things.”
Event specialists welcome the added versatility that the US$1.9 billion dollar resort complex brings to the Cotai Strip. “Galaxy Macau complements The Venetian and the City of Dreams (COD) by adding affordability to the Cotai Strip,” says Bruno Simões, executive director of smallWORLD Experience. “Certainly it gives Macau new dining and entertainment options, like the Indian restaurant Spice Garden which is located at the resort’s East Promenade.”
Having witnessed the opening of its two neighbours, he finds the new complex “underwhelming… I was expecting something at the level of the COD. However, it did not exceed my expectations. It feels like any other property. There is no wow factor and there is nothing truly unique. Although I must say I love the function rooms at Hotel Okura,” Simões says.
Peter Hassall, creative director of Off-Site Connections, offers a different point of view: “The Galaxy Macau is chasing a different demographic, a different kind of clientele. Unlike the other two, it does not specifically chase the MICE sector and that is a great add-on. Of course, the more venues opening on Cotai, the better for Macau.”
Off-Site Connections’ director of events Benjamin Fox adds: “It has its sights mostly on the middle-class mainland Chinese and it is probably doing a great job at it.” Perceptions about the lack of a wow factor are likely to change when two of Galaxy Macau’s biggest draws finally come online: the China Rouge and Macau’s first 3D multiplex.
The 1,600sqm China Rouge is inspired by 1930s Shanghai art deco and is envisioned as a hybrid venue – a bar and lounge as well as a restaurant with a club vibe. There will be a stage for theatrical performances. The 3D multiplex, on the other hand, will have nine massive screening rooms.
This is good news for Uniplan Hong Kong, a live communications agency, which has worked on interactive brand presentations, road shows, conferences and corporate events for clients such as Audi, Adidas, Audemars Piguet, Canon, Sotheby’s, Sony and UBS, among others.
“Macau is in dire need of lifestyle attractions to entice companies to return for second or third events. There are obviously many things to do outside the event environment, but it is a challenge when a company has been here more than once,” says C L Wong, chief executive for Asia at Uniplan Hong Kong.
Outside venues, unique experiences
As a rule of thumb, corporate groups stay a minimum of two to three nights in Macau. While integrated resorts like Galaxy Macau can offer everything under one roof, at least one activity in the programme is held in an outside venue. And the lack of special venues outside hotels and resorts remains a headache for event organisers.
“Previously, we have created venues by utilising mobile and tent structures. However, this creates additional costs since we have to bring in power, running water, washroom facilities, transport and other services required to stage an event,” Wong says.
To fill a hole in the market, Off-Site Connections is currently developing a couple of signature events that let corporate groups see the “heart and soul that is Macau” in three hours. “Corporate groups stay here and they don’t even see anything,” Fox says. “Even with government restrictions that prevent certain places serving as a venue, we are able to identify a couple of locations where we can bus our group in and immerse them in everything Macau for three hours. It is something historical and truly unique. The programme will drive all their senses wild with great food and great entertainment. It is definitely worth writing home about.”
Meanwhile, smallWorld Experience has recently launched a one-of-a-kind Wine and Gourmet Casino programme that couples Macau’s two greatest passions: gaming and food and wine. “We have partnered with a specialist event provider from Spain called Vinelis to put this programme together,” says Simões. “We set up a venue like a casino, and a choice of wines, teas, cheese and aromas are placed at each table where guests are asked to place bets either on their origin, colour or type. At the end, an auction of secret gifts is held and the ones with the most chips win more prizes.”
What’s good about this programme is that it can be set up indoors or outdoors and can be scaled up or down to fit the size of a venue. The programme can be timed for one to 2.5 hours and can cater for groups between 30 and 500 people.
Hassall of Off-Site Connections notes that events in integrated resorts like Galaxy Macau offer many “magical moments” for corporate groups, but there is also a lot of room for experiences beyond these huge complexes. “We have to find those things in Macau that are truly unique, and leverage them to get people excited about coming here because you can only do them in Macau,” he says.
Galaxy Macau has an Asian ambience, which sets it apart from its predecessors on Cotai Strip. Below are some of the new playground’s unique features:
Grand Resort Deck: Located on Level 2 with direct access to all three hotels in the complex, the open-air resort deck covers a total area of 52,000sqm. It claims to have the world’s largest skytop pool that generates waves as high as 1.5 metres. The 350 tonnes of white sand around the pool create an artificial beach that spans 2,000sqm. The resort deck contains the hotels’ swimming pools and other facilities such as the Banyan Tree Pool Cabanas. It is a destination in itself, a place where a range of activities can be conducted: yoga sessions, tai chi classes, beach volleyball and treasure hunts. It is the site of a nightly laser show.
Yamazato: Overlooking a lush Japanese garden, the signature restaurant of Okura Hotel serves famous kaiseki meals. It features a tea ceremony room, whose structure is made from washi (a type of Japanese paper) that is reinforced with polyester fibre. Veteran tea-ceremony master Yayoi Shirai conducts four sessions daily from 2pm.
The Crystal Piano: A cosy, contemporary bar that offers great views of the Cotai Strip from the 28th floor of the Okura Hotel. It features live jazz entertainment while white-gloved waiters in tuxedos serves Japanese whiskies and cocktails until the wee hours. It can hold 20 guests.
Terraza: The Galaxy Hotel’s Mediterranean restaurant has the standalone Glass House that can fit a group of 16 people. It overlooks the outlet’s outdoor terrace which can be set up for an intimate outdoor reception for 30 people.
The Macallan Whisky Bar and Lounge: This 80-seater bar features heavy oak wood panelling and furniture from Scotland. An ideal place for conference VIPs to enjoy their off time by enjoying a sip of the best Scottish malts.
Spice Garden: Already with a solid reputation as a must-eat place in Macau, this Indian restaurant has the feel of Old India with its Mughal arches of carved sandstone, embellished timber and windows with lattice shutters. Located in the Galaxy complex’s East Promenade, it has a seating capacity for 100 people.
Keeping it fresh
The novelty of City of Dreams (COD) and the Venetian Macao Resort and Hotel may have worn off, but both integrated resorts continue to find new ways to attract visitors. By peppering their calendars with high-end entertainment, both are doing their bit to help the Cotai Strip retain its lustre.
While COD’s must-see water-based extravaganza The House of Dancing Water is playing to a full house at each performance, the resort has been hosting a series of the limited-edition events that can be included into a corporate group’s itinerary during its offsite meeting.
Recently concluded events include the SPLASH Pool Party Summer Series at Hard Rock Hotel’s Pool and Club CUBIC and the Mixed Martial Arts event featuring the Legend Fighting Championship 5 at Grand Hyatt Macau.
For the first time in Asia, Madonna’s memorabilia were displayed around the resort in a month-long exhibition called “Simply Madonna at the City of Dreams 2011”. More than 50 items were on display, including concert tour costumes from the Blond Ambition and Who’s That Girl tours, as well as dresses worn in the movie Evita. COD also hosted the star-studded 11th Chinese Media Film Awards in June, where the purpose-built venue for The House of Dancing Water was used for another event.
Technological wizardry in the theatre provided some never-before-seen razzmatazz to the awards ceremony.
Not to be outdone is the Venetian Macao, which kicked off its first World Carnival event, melding street carnivals from places as diverse as New Orleans, Brazil and Venice. Decked out in colourful décor and lined with stalls selling snacks and souvenirs from around the world, the Venetian lagoon was transformed for this three-day-long fiesta. The party started with a bang as fireworks lit up the canal while professional samba group Beija-Flor sashayed on stage. A line-up of exciting live band performances, a pool party and a riotous Copacabana Charity Ball kept the party rolling for several fun hours. Each element of the carnival can be re-created on a smaller scale for events. For example, the samba pool party, complete with themed cocktails and private seating areas, could easily be replicated for private functions. The Venetian also hosted Ice World, an exhibition depicting famous global landmarks in ice sculptures. Fitted with an ice bar, the resort offered corporate groups an opportunity for a unique cocktail reception.
Gigi Onag with additional reporting by Alisha Haridasani
Macau International Airport (www.macau-airport.com) has flights to/from a number of Chinese cities, as well as regional cities including Seoul, Tokyo, Taipei, Manila, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Jakarta. Alternatively Hong Kong International Airport is only 60 minutes away on a convenient fast ferry service direct from that airport. Three ferry terminals in Hong Kong and one in Shenzhen operate to the Macau Ferry Terminal a short drive from the city centre, or Taipa Temporary Ferry Terminal close to the Cotai Strip (www.turbojet.com.hk and www.cotaijet.com.mo).
Macau is subtropical, so summers are hot and humid (over 30?C and 90% humidity is common) while winters can be cold (below 10?C). Springtime can be very wet. The typhoon season from June to September sometimes plays havoc with flights, and the most pleasant time to visit is October-December.
Most nationalities are entitled to visa-free entry to Macau for periods of either up to 90 days or up to 30 days – call +853 2872 5488 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Macau Government Tourist Office
Tel: +853 2831 5566
OFF-SITE CONNECTIONS EVENT MANAGEMENT
UNIPLAN HONG KONG