Transforming itself into the Las Vegas of Asia has turned the world’s eyes toward this tiny Chinese enclave, and along the way, people discover that there is life in Macau beyond the casinos. And much like a singer who does not want to be a one-hit wonder, the Macau Government has been encouraging the development of a diversified economy.
With swanky new hotels from major international chains shoring up not only the number of guestrooms but also the number of venue options, Macau joins the growing rank of emerging destinations vying for the attention of corporate event organisers and meeting planners.
“Those who have not been to Macau in the past three to five years should take a trip and see what is transpiring: the magnitude of development that is going on is truly amazing,” says Peter Kinnane, managing director of Off-Site Connections, an Australian-based DMC that recently set up a local office in the territory. “Mature event planners are always looking for new experiences for their clients and Macau is certainly a destination that has diversity and is well positioned geographically to reap the benefits.”
For Off-Site Connections, the strategy is to transform the Macau experience into a true business events destination rich with culture and heritage. And everyone in the industry with an eye on corporate business for meetings and incentives seems to be following the same blueprint.
Indeed, Macau’s unique heritage, offering a distinct blend of Portuguese and Chinese cultures, is a draw to prospective visitors.
“The city’s key attraction and main selling point is its cultural uniqueness, which you can see in everything from architecture to food. What’s more, Macau is three times bigger now than it used to be as a destination with a range of activities on offer to suit any itinerary,” says Bruno Simões, CEO of the newly established DOC DMC Macau, which is developing a niche market for corporate groups out of Europe and other non-Chinese speaking markets in Asia.
City in transition
Meanwhile, Robert Van Der Maas, MGM Grand Macau vice-president for hotel operations, is glad to hear that companies such as Off-Site Connections and DOC DMC Macau have set up shop in the territory.
“Macau is in a transitional phase and one of the areas where it needs to grow is to have a proper convention board as well as a group of DMCs that would specialise in developing the MICE business,” he observes.
He adds that the city is growing too fast in terms of physical products that soft services have to catch up. Since it opened in December, MGM Grand has been mostly working with regional DMCs based out of Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai for high-profile, high-level corporate events and incentive programmes of major brands like Louis Vuitton and Sony Ericsson.
“We are being copied already in terms of some of our event concepts and presentations so we are working on our second-generation offerings while we continue to refine existing ones,” Van Der Maas remarks.
Companies grading Macau’s potential for top-of-the-line itineraries, products and services will find the city exceeds expectations. The new hotels particularly have superb architecture and gorgeous interiors, offering a palette of backdrop and venue choices outside the normal conference hall and ballroom.
Also anticipating the need of some companies, which may want to exclude the Macau casino experience, hotels such as MGM Grand, Wynn Macau and The Venetian have entrances where events guests don’t have to cross the gambling floors.
“We have separated, to a certain extent, the lifestyle part of our facilities from the gaming side of it.
“We want to give corporate guests different aspects of life in Macau within the hotel – architecture, arts, entertainment, shopping and spa, to name a few. This adds value to their total Macau experience,” Van Der Maas says.
This integrated resort experience, punctuated with world-class amenities and services, defines the new Macau. And companies have a fine selection of properties to choose from, particularly with the recent opening of Sofitel Macau at Ponte 16 and Four Seasons Hotel Macao.
“We bring a level of service and sophistication that is known to international travellers. Meeting planners across the region know exactly what type of service they will get. The Four Seasons will offer meeting planners an oasis amid the mega-hotels of Macau,” says hotel director of marketing Julius Santos.
Wynn Macau, an integrated resort pioneer of the new Macau, is unfazed by the competition that has been building.
“Macau right now is a novelty. Macau is hot in everybody’s mind right now with a lot of new things, and will continue to be so in the next five to 10 years,” says Melanie Foo-Tiplady, vice-president for sales and marketing for Wynn Macau. “As the business environment changes, we are not going to stay put. We will gear up for the competition.”
With its limited number of rooms, Wynn eyes small- to medium-sized corporate groups needing about 50 to 200 rooms and it has seen plenty of repeat customers.
At year-end, for one, the hotel will be the venue for Cine Asia, the annual trade show for film industries across the region. It is in events like this one, that Wynn’s ability to lay out a theme party and a gala dinner with a wow factor really comes to the pore – because of the creativity involved.
“Event organisers are very receptive to Macau as a new destination. The only thing that they are surprised about is that they always think Macau is cheap. That is no longer true. They need to pay a good price to be able to enjoy Macau. I think the biggest culture shock that they encounter is the place is as expensive as Hong Kong. But I can truly say that we now have facilities that are on par and sometimes better than you can find across the channel.”
Simões of DOC DMCs says that it’s better for companies to stick with hotels when looking for venues in Macau.
“There are plenty of fantastic venues for meetings inside hotels. There is no shortage of that. What we lack is a place where we can hold extraordinary activities and special dinners outside hotels or restaurants. We need new unique venues in Macau,” he adds, citing client feedback that The Forum is too old and The Fisherman’s Wharf a bit kitsch.
Wanted Seamless Experience
As the government (through the Macau Government Tourism Office) and the private sector push hard for the territory’s potential as a meetings and incentives destination, all in the industry acknowledge one pressing challenge – logistics.
While vast improvements have been made, the transportation infrastructure for those travelling to and within Macau is still fragmented. Long-haul flights from Europe, North America and Australia do not have direct routes to Macau, and so many international visitors need to pass through Hong Kong. Urban transportation is sketchy, so much so that hotels provide shuttle buses that can take guests around the city.
Industry insiders, pushing for Macau as destination for business events, take these hiccups in stride and still deliver as seamless an experience as best they can.
Kinnane of Off-Site Connections notes: “This is a new market for most of us in Asia-Pacific, so I think we are all learning, but I see this as a positive experience. Our company has 13 years of experience and we’re now locally based in Macau.
“We can offer our clients not only reassurance that we can deliver high-end events but provide the client with exceptional service, creativity and assist them in making their lives easier when working in Macau. In other words, we take the challenges away from working in a new destination.”
An hour-long ferry ride from Hong Kong remains the most popular mode of travel into Macau. Besides the Turbojet and the First Ferry services originating from both Hong Kong and Kowloon islands to the Macau Ferry Terminal, there is also now the Cotaijet service that takes visitors directly to the Cotai Strip via the Macau Taipa Temporary Ferry Terminal. The SkyPier also provides ferry services to Macau directly from the Hong Kong International Airport for arriving passengers who do not want to go through Hong Kong immigration.
Air travel to Macau is on the rise with direct flights from Asian cities like Shanghai, Xiamen and Wuhan, Taipei, Tokyo, Narita, Osaka, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Singapore, Sydney and Manila among others. Air Macau and Viva Macau are the main carriers.
Visitors coming via Hong Kong and Shenzhen also have the option of taking the helicopter service.
Macau has four seasons. Weather is most comfortable in autumn from the middle of October to December. The spring months of March and April are also mostly fine with temperatures between 16ºC and 24ºC. The summer months of May to September are marked by occasional heavy rains and thunderstorms.
Chinese and Portuguese are the official languages, used primarily in government departments’ official documents and communications. English is widely used in tourism, trade and commerce. Cantonese is also widely spoken.
Visas on arrival, valid for 30 days, are available at the Immigration Services.
Holders of a Hong Kong identity card do not need a visa. Similarly, citizens of the US, Australia, Canada, the Philippines, South Korea, Portugal, Thailand, Singapore, Finland, Germany and France among others can enter Macau visa-free provided stays are not longer than 30 or 90 days.
For more details, check the Macau Immigration Services at +853 2872 5488
Macau Government Tourism Office (MGTO)
ZAIA COMES TO TOWN
In recent years, Macau has built a name as an entertainment mecca for bringing in pop icons including Pussycat Dolls, Beyoncé and Celine Dion to strut their stuff on its stage. Another milestone was struck in August with the opening of the highly anticipated ZAIA, the very first permanent Cirque du Soleil production in Asia.
Now playing Tuesday through Sunday at The Venetian Macao, ZAIA is about the dream of a young girl who journeys into space, and like each company production, fuses innovative acrobatics, theatre, dance and music with spectacular costumes, lighting and makeup.
The lavish production adds an interesting mix to the territory’s nighttime entertainment options that event organisers and meeting planners can put on their itineraries.
“We are extremely excited to bring this unique show to the Cotai Strip as our first permanent base in China. The creative challenge is very interesting for us as this area has yet to be developed for its entertainment offers,” says Daniel Lamarre, Cirque du Soleil president and CEO.
The infrastructure is definitely being built as the talents come in. For one, the ZAIA production is being performed nightly at its own custom-built, 1,800-seat theatre, which costs together with the show creation, more than US$150 million. The theatre echoes the ancient architecture of Jaipur in India and the vast stone Mayan observatories of Central America. It contains many visual cues and references that add to the show’s underlying theme of cosmic exploration.
“Cirque du Soleil will definitely give the people of Asia a chance to experience wholly unique and world-class entertainment, an aim to which we are also committed,” says Mark Brown, president of Sands Macao and The Venetian Macao.
Classy performances for unique events
The Venetian Macao is taking entertainment to a whole new level, putting its services as an entertainment specialist at the disposal of corporate clients intent on having their events and evening galas make a huge impact.
“The whole point behind corporate event acts is that you have to do something completely new. It has to be something that will take guests by surprise and they can’t wait to see what happens next,” says Loren Geeting, senior manager for entertainment at The Venetian. “Most companies who come here to do the big dinners have been doing these a number of times. And they want their dinner to be memorable. They need to find ways of making that happen, and in order for theirs to stand out, they need interesting entertainment.”
Geeting, an American newly arrived in Macau, has years of experience from Broadway and the London West End and is also a veteran of many corporate event acts abroad. As part of the team at The Venetian Macau Entertainment Services, he is responsible of putting together a portfolio of performances – music, dance and specialty acts – that can be incorporated to a company’s private function or gala dinner. To date, Geeting has about 15 acts from a one-man magician to elaborate set pieces from Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera to Hollywood’s Rat Pack.
All of the hotel’s over 200 artistic talents – from the Streetsmosphere gang of jesters, jugglers, magicians and acrobats to the singing gondoliers and living statues as well as the live band performers – can be tapped for any of the acts that are specially tailored to deliver a tight, colourful and vibrant set of 20 minutes or more.
Geeting writes the script. An in-house choreographer helps with the blocking and an in-house musical director assists in song arrangement and backing tracks.
“The Three Gondoliers is the quickest set that we can put in front of a corporate function as the pieces are all there. We can have a trio of gondoliers serenade guests as they enter the reception and then deliver a 25-minute corporate dinner act where they belt out powerful arias like Nessun Dorma and La Donna e Mobile. The whole point is not just performing on stage, it’s mingling with the audience and talking to people,” Geeting explains.
“We lay out what we have in front of the client and they have a variety to choose from. The whole thing is set up as an incentive for big clients to come here rather than go anywhere else.”
Bringing the hotel’s signature acts into a private setting of a corporate function is a relatively new offering from The Venetian. But it is an essential part of an all-out effort to provide event organisers and meeting planners all the services they need under one roof. These entertainment services can cater to groups of 10 to 10,000.
And already, there are clients who have shown interest in hiring one or several acts for their evening entertainment.
Geeting conceded that some companies may find the package a bit pricey, but he points out that they actually pay less for world-class entertainment because they do not need to spend on flights and accommodation that they normally pay for when they get outside entertainers.
“Our entertainment offering actually covers a range of prices so companies can pick one to suit their budget. They can hire a magician for the entire evening for HK$5,000 (US$644). But if you are after the wow factor, the more complex set pieces do cost more.” He adds: “If you were to fly the renowned Three Waiters act from abroad, you will have to pay around HK$65,000 (US$8,358) for 30 minutes of entertainment. With the Three Gondoliers, which is inspired and patterned after the Three Waiters concept, you have almost the exact same thing for HK$30,000 (US$3,858). We can take anything that the world can offer and we can offer it at a reduced price.”
Lights and sound artistry
Macau’s must-see attractions do not have to be live shows.
While the weekday lunchtime crowd slowly thinned, groups of people – mostly day visitors – made a beeline to the hallways that lead to Wynn Macau’s atrium where the Tree of Prosperity is about to run one of its daily performances.
The impressive 15-minute show rivals the spectacular kinetic sculptures and light and sound performances in top hotels in Las Vegas.
A 21-metre diameter gold cupola in the ceiling is engraved with the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac, while on the floor below a 10-metre diameter copper dome is engraved with 18th-century astronomic charts featuring the 12 signs of the Western zodiac. Both domes form the centrepiece of entire atrium, with both domes opening up as the show begins.
From the floor, the iconic Golden Tree rises to a height of 11 metres. Its 60 limbs, 2,000 branches and 98,000 leaves made from brass and 24-carat gold. Moving in perfect synchronicity with the music, rays of light illuminate the tree as its colour changes to depict the four different seasons.
At the ceiling, a giant LED video screen is revealed showing dramatic swirling and transforming patters to express a complexity of rhythms and emotions. And then LED video splits into two parting smoothly like a stage curtain and a giant 13,000-
crystal chandelier drops down from the inner ceiling.
The production was design and created by a team of artists and engineers from the UK, New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Hong Kong.
On a free evening, meanwhile, event organisers who take delegates to dinner and a night-out in the city centre might want to stop by the hotel to watch its magnificent Performance Lake, where fire and water interact with coloured lighting and a specially designed musical track.
Wynn Macau is raising the bar in light and sound artistry.
Macau East Asian Games Dome
One of the major venues of the 2005 East Asian Games, it is also the largest indoor sporting facility in the city. It comprises a three-storey multi-purpose sporting complex covering a total area of 45,000sqm with two separate functional indoor pavilions designed for different types of indoor sports and activities – an ideal venue for corporate teambuilding activities. It also consists of a large exhibition hall that can accommodate up to 2,000 people.
Macau Cultural Centre
With magnificent views of the Outer Harbour, the Grand Auditorium with a capacity of 1,114 seats (with an orchestra pit) is perfect for concerts, dance, operas and musicals, while the Small Auditorium with a capacity of 393 seats, offers a cosy ambience for film shows, conference and other intimate performances. Both auditoria feature simultaneous interpretation facilities and quality sound-and-lighting systems.
Easily accessible with the nearby Macau Ferry Terminal, it is located in the Outer Harbour area, in an urban renewal area which is being rapidly developed with commercial, residential and hotel properties. Multi-purpose in style, the Forum can handle meetings, musical shows, sports events and exhibitions for up to 4,000 people.
Macau Tower Convention & Entertainment Centre
The city’s 338-metre tall iconic landmark is a popular venue for hosting conferences, corporate meetings, trade fairs and training seminars. The Grand Hall seats over 1,000 guests for banquets or cocktail receptions. Its 500-seat theatre has simultaneous translation facilities, a hydraulically operated orchestra pit and state-of-the art lighting and audio-visual facilities. For team-building activities that takes team spirit to the next level, an array of thrilling challenges is available at the AJ Hackett Adventure Zone. Furthermore, event organisers can find a rich variety of after-hours leisure and dining experiences at the Tower’s Main Observation Lounge and seven restaurants offering Portuguese, Chinese and international cuisines.
Macau Fisherman’s Wharf
The first theme park built in Macau, Fisherman’s Wharf offers various unique backdrops for theme events and meetings from an ancient Roman Amphitheatre to the landscape of erupting volcano and Tibet’s Potala Palace. The 5,000sqm Convention and Exhibition Centre is located on the basement level of the Aqua Romanis and can accommodate up to 168 round tables or 3,600 guests for cocktails.
An incentive trip in Macau is not complete until delegates have experienced a few of the territory’s must-see attractions. Here are two suggested tours.
Heritage attraction tour
1010 – 1200: St Augustine Square, Dom Pedro V Theatre, Sir Robert Ho Tung Library, St Joseph’s Seminary and Church, St Lawrence’s Church, Lilau Square, Mandarin House (outlook), Moorish Barracks (outlook) and A-Ma Temple
1200 – 1240: St Anthony’s Church, Casa Garden and Protestant Cemetery
1245 – 1500: Ruins of St Paul, Na Tcha Temple, Section of the Old City Walls,
Mount Fortress, Leal Senado Building, Sam Kai Vui Kun Temple, Holy House of Mercy, St Dominic’s Church, Cathedral and Lou Kau Mansion
(Lunch at local restaurant)
1510 – 1600: Guia Fortress and Guia Chapel
Taipa & Coloane Highlight Tour
1100 – 1130: Along Kum Iam Stature, Macau Tower, Sai Van Bridge to Coloane
1130 – 1230: Visit St Francis Xavier Church and Tam Kung Temple (with Portuguese tarts for a snack)
1230 – 1330: Arrive at Rua do Regedor, Taipa (for local food-tasting and lunch)
1330 – 1415: Macau East Asian Games Dome
1414 – 1430: Travel across the Taipa-Coloane Causeway and Cotai area to The Venetian Macao
1430 – 1630: Spend some free time in The Venetian Macao