Many were ready to write off Macau when the global financial crisis put a halt to borrowing-funded construction around the city. But intent to diversify its economy beyond gaming, the former Portuguese enclave refuses to be cowed by temporary setbacks put in its way.
Destination management companies operating in the territory have all felt the pinch as events either received huge budget cuts or were cancelled altogether. It did not help matters when the visa restrictions on Mainland Chinese travellers were imposed. But the local government has been showing political will to ensure Macau does not disappear from organisers’ map.
“The MGTO (Macau Government Tourist Office) has been very good in propping up the events sector with subsidies and other support services to ensure Macau gets to host events and gain the much-needed experience,” says Bruno Simões, CEO of Doc DMC.
MGTO’s MICE incentive programme launched in May gives visiting delegates a subsidy of US$60 per person or more for groups with a minimum of 100 overseas delegates with two consecutive nights of hotel stays and two full-day meetings. Groups must have at least 40 percent of their participants coming from abroad.
Raul Azevedo, CEO of smallWORLD Experience notes: “The situation is now getting better, frankly, especially for short-haul clients. They can now plan their event in Macau at very reasonable rates.”
New venues rising
Event organisers will find that new venues are still redefining the city’s skyline. In fact, the opening in June of the US$2.1 billion City of Dreams (COD) offers fresh backdrops and ideas for entertainment for groups on a meeting or an incentive trip.
“We were fortunate that we had completely raised our funding between 2006 and 2007. We built this project exactly to scale. It was constructed on time and within budget,” says Lawrence Ho, co-chairman and CEO of Melco Crown Entertainment, which owns COD.
Like the colossal Venetian Macao, COD is an integrated resort, aiming to be a lifestyle centre with hotel, shopping and entertainment all contained under one roof.
The first phase of its opening includes Crown Towers and Hard Rock Hotel, a concept-themed shopping arcade called Boulevard, 20 dining outlets offering specialty cuisines, and the dome-shaped Bubble that houses a multi-million dollar light-and-sound show that offers the spectators a 360-degree panorama of the undersea world of the Jade Emperor Dragon.
“We want to help Macau develop into a multiday-stay destination,” says COD president Greg Hawkins. “We represent the next generation of resort experiences in Macau.”
Groups looking for other new hotel venue options have a lot to choose from. There is the less-than-a-year-old Four Seasons Hotel just next door to The Venetian on Cotai Strip. The upscale hotel has more than 2,500sqm of space that can accommodate up to 670 people. Its selling point is being a non-gaming hotel and it is targeting business events for 20 percent of its revenue.
“For corporate events, clients prefer staying in a hotel where there is no casino in the premises,” says hotel director of marketing Julius Santos. “Actually, we have already confirmed 11 corporate events to be hosted in the hotel by 2010, and we do expect more since regional clients that represent the bulk of our MICE market has a short lead time of no more than 60 days.”
Another newer hotel option, Sofitel Macau At Ponte 16, offers a cosy ambience for small- to medium-size events that can be themed according to preference.
“Our multi-function room is a unique venue in Macau with a view against a picturesque water backdrop. It has direct access to outdoor balcony South Terrace and poolside North Terrace with a capacity for up to 400 guests,” says hotel general manager Robert Rippon. “Outdoor setups are available in a magnificent style.
With its proximity to many of Macau’s cultural heritage sites such as the Ruins of St Paul’s Church and A-Ma Temple, the hotel also serves as an ideal base for incentive groups on a sightseeing tour.
Meanwhile, new hotels are still in the pipeline. The Grand Hyatt is on track to open at the COD in October. Encore at Wynn Macau and Galaxy Macau is expected to open in 2010. The new Mandarin Oriental Hotel is also in the pipeline.
“Some of these places are massive and may look too big for your group, but because of their size they can offer companies much more under one roof,” says Abbie McCrisken, director of events at Off-site Connections. “The key for organisers is not to be put off by the massive scale of these properties, but to see the opportunities that exist within them.”
A specially arranged medical spa is a new and unique activity that event organisers can put in the group itinerary, says Gigi Onag
You don’t have to travel to Thailand or Singapore to let your group experience the world-class integrative wellness therapies that are now all the rage among today’s health-conscious throng.
Rejuvenate from a gruelling schedule with a post-event trip to the 7,897sqm medical and wellness facility MALO CLINIC and MALO CLINIC SPA, which recently opened in July at Level 5, Grand Canal Shoppes of The Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel.
Now available for group bookings is the spa zone. MALO CLINIC SPA uses a holistic approach by offering the perfect synergy between clinical and traditional therapies with a range of signature facials, body massages and treatments. Those who want to defy time should check out the anti-ageing and the slimming therapies
What’s unique is that the facility is staffed with a multi-disciplinary team of medical doctors, licensed healthcare professionals and wellness therapists from across the globe.
“I moved to Macau in April and it was a journey of discovery that opened my eyes to the amazing diversity of this city.
I arrived thinking I knew a lot about this town – lots of casinos, huge hotel properties, two islands connected by bridges. The standard Macau reputation I guess you could say. I was about to be surprised.
What blew me away was all of the other things that you don’t hear about Macau. The amazing culture, the incredible food and wine, and the quaint villages scattered throughout Coloane that are picturesque and untouched by the glitz and glamour of the Cotai Strip. Not to take away from the incredible development of Cotai, but there was so much else on offer that I was unaware of.
Coming from such a mature region such as Tropical North Queensland, the age of the business events industry here in Macau is certainly something that I am revelling in. That corporate events is relatively a new concept to Macau means that you can really start to pave the way when bringing groups into this destination. There are lots of firsts to be had and lots of unchartered territory to explore. That’s what makes it exciting, not only for delegates but for planners.
Planners should remember that this is an exciting emerging destination and we have the experience and facilities here, so now is the time to experience this amazing fusion of Chinese and Portuguese culture, heritage and tastes.”
Macau-based events professionals have the local knowledge to help provide your group with a unique and culturally authentic experience
Even for an emerging destination, Macau has a template of must-see sights, venues and must-do activities that pose a challenge for any company striving to put together an unforgettable business event or incentive trip.
Hooking up with a locally based DMC that knows the destination inside out might be the secret to your success.
With the popularity of culturally themed events, escaping the standard heritage venue would be difficult. But there are ways to spice up the experience by adding a little extra.
“We recently organised a traditional Lion Dance workshop in an ancient temple to give clients a true experience of Chinese culture,” recalls Raul Azevedo, CEO of smallWORLD Experience.
And one of the company’s most memorable events to date was the “Race Around Macau” organised on behalf of the National Australia Bank, where more than 120 bank managers were involved in a World Heritage treasure hunt and a traditional tai chi competition.
A dash of creativity goes a long way. In a quiet market, referrals from previous clients and from local hotel and resorts were a tremendous help in keeping Azevedo’s firm afloat.
Still, he urges clients to look beyond the obvious choices when looking for a venue and activity-based event.
“There are events that can be held outside the city centre and there are water-based sports that deserve to be considered,” he adds.
Bruno Simões, CEO of Doc DMC, agrees that local knowledge is what sets a great event apart.
“Being focused on the Western market, we are very strong on culture-based events. But we look for something that is not typical to put on the itinerary.”
For instance, Doc DMC organised a culinary adventure for an incentive group that paired wines with Portuguese cuisine. To deepen the experience, expert advice and onsite involvement of the Macau Wine Society was sought to personally provide information on the wines’ origins, their properties and their effect on the palate’s appreciation of a particular dish.
Furthermore, the group participants were given a sheet of paper with the buying references for the wines served, listing down the places where they can be bought and at what price. The event was held in the Miramar Restaurant, a beautifully rustic venue by the beach.
Event management companies based in Macau are also excellent partners for scouting out non-hotel venues.
Abbie McCrisken of Off-site Connections says: “We continually work with the local government to gain access to heritage and cultural sites around the city. Some of these venues require permits, but are certainly worth the wait.”
She also recommends other non-hotel venues on her list. There is Pousada de Saõ Tiago, which preserves much of the 17th century Fortaleza da Barra and the Chapel of St James. It has a “gorgeous outdoor terrace area” with ornate Portuguese design perfect for a small lunch or dinner function.
There is also the Nga Tim Café in Coloane Village that offers corporate groups a waterfront and a historic 1920s baroque church as a backdrop. This is a unique location that can seat up to
Newly renovated Caesars Golf Course allows group to dine on the driving range and other outdoor areas suitable for daytime teambuilding activities.
Something to watch out for is the soon-to-open Macau Science Museum, another waterfront facility with a unique-looking structure.
“There are simply a lot of unusual venue choices. All you have to do is look. And there are also a myriad of activity and adventure available: hiking trails, beach activities, golf, spa, cooking classes, wine tasting and much more,” she adds.
Indeed, one needs to be based there to know these things.
Weekend with Bollywood Stars
Macau saw a glitzy parade of Indian silver-screen idols in a star-studded event to award the best of Bollywood films, writes Gigi Onag
India’s love affair with Macau continued with a spectacular weekend extravaganza held at The Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel recently. Over 600 Bollywood showbiz denizens made the territory their home during three jam-packed, whirlwind days of festivities, surrounding the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards ceremony.
Macau had edged out Shanghai and Abu Dhabi in the bid to host India’s very own Oscars, which has always been held outside the country. Held from June 11 to 13, this year’s IIFA event marks its 10th year.
Aside from the awards presentation, the event included a Global Business Forum and a Fashion Foundation Extravaganza as well as Green Carpet events and a couple of post-event parties. There was also the IIFA weekend press conference with 385 journalists from the world’s press.
“What made us an appealing choice is that our property can hold all the different elements of the entire event within one building. The style, elegance and diverse attractions at The Venetian made us the top choice,” says Sandra Ng, senior manager for business tourism and events marketing at The Venetian.
The integrated resort had less than six months to prepare the venue for accommodation, food and beverage, entertainment , transportation, and technical service among other things.
Ng notes: “We have learned how to put together and execute a mega event with limited outside resources and support. This was an event that used 100 percent of our internal staff and internal resources.”
The main programme of the weekend extravaganza was a marathon of activities than begun with a three-hour “green carpet” ceremony. India’s film idols and Bollywood’s inside operators had to walk the 200m strip inside the resort leading up the auditorium as fans tried to push through the barricades.
The IIFA Awards ceremony started at 9.30pm and lasted until 2.30am. It was a freewheeling five-hour variety show that featured a Cirque du Soleil circus performance, skits, movie spoofs and elaborate song-and-dance routines that Bollywood is known for. At one point, the IIFA compere waded through the VIP section to get different stars to sing some Hindi songs.
Indian heart-throb Aishwarya Rai was carried onto the stage in a golden sedan chair by barefoot men to the music from epic Indian movie Jodhaa Akbar and then proceeded to perform with a group of bare-chested dancers. Her actor husband Abhishek Bachchan showed up in a pink-striped kurta and made his way onstage to join female dancers in red bikini tops and red dresses.
Other star performers of the night included Kareen Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor. In the audience were Indian film academy ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, Anil Kapoor of Slumdog Millionaire, former Miss Universe Sushmita Sen, Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar, Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala and many more.
Organisers from Wizcraft were full of praise for the Venetian. “You were like a pillar of strength, shouldering the weight of such a mammoth event beside us. My heartfelt gratitude,” says Wizcraft associate vice-president Ajay Rau.
Air access into Macau has increased significantly in the past few years. Aside from local carriers Air Macau and Viva Macau, other airlines such as AirAsia, EVA Air, Philippine Airlines and Tiger Airways provide Macau with air links to the rest of the world.
However, most people come into the territory via Hong Kong by ferry. Groups arriving from abroad can now bypass Hong Kong immigration with a direct ferry transfer from the airport at Chek Lap Kok. The journey takes an hour.
Groups from China’s southern province of Guangdong can take a ferry from Shenzhen or a bus from Guangzhou. Travel time is 80 minutes and 60 minutes respectively.
Macau has four seasons. Weather is most comfortable in autumn between middle of October and December. Summer between May and September is marked by occasional heavy rains and thunderstorms.
Citizens of some countries do not need visa. Visa on arrival is available for those who need one. For visa requirements and other information, check Macau Government Tourist Office website at www.macautourism.gov.mo
Chinese and Portuguese are the official languages. Cantonese is widely spoken. English is the lingua franca for business.
Arrive in Style
Your VIP group of boardroom executives can do a quick fly-in fly-out meeting into Macau by taking the exclusive Sky Shuttle Helicopter service from Hong Kong, writes Joshua Tan
The flight lasts for only 16 minutes aboard the new AgustaWestland 139 helicopter that can carry12 passengers on plush leather-bound seats. Passengers can check in up to 15 minutes before the flight at the heliport on top of the Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Terminal in Shun Tak Centre. The newly upgraded passenger lounge offers new level of service with complimentary Wi-Fi internet and a variety of refreshments.
Event organisers bringing high-end incentive groups into the territory can include a specially chartered Sky Shuttle flight as part of the Macau experience. Sky Shuttle also offers 15-minute flights between Macau and Shenzhen. Arrangements can be tailor-made to specific requirements.
There are 27 round-trip flights daily between Hong Kong and Macau and ten round-trip daily flights between Macau and Shenzhen.
For more information, visit www.skyshuttlehk.com