Those who still consider Macau as a place to merely stake out the roulette wheel and blackjack table, or chow down on egg tarts while admiring the well-preserved colonial buildings should think again. The glitzy queen of the Pearl River Delta continues to assert itself as a world-class entertainment resort akin to the original city of sin, Las Vegas. Not content with snatching the title of the world’s biggest gambling mecca from Vegas, it is also gearing up to be an Asian sporting hub. Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Ríos’ fight this November at the Cotai arena at the Venetian, for example, represented the biggest boxing fight ever held on Chinese soil.
While top sporting events such as Pacquiao’s and Rios’ face-off present attractive incentive options, the city has the hardware to back it up, with an array of spacious, well-equipped business events facilities. DOC DMC Macau director Bruno Simões says: “Macau is becoming more popular, especially for meetings, with the addition of Sands Cotai Central, which has more than 9,000 rooms. This has given the city an edge because of the capacity and flexibility it offers.” Indeed, the Polynesian-themed Sheraton Macau at Sands Cotai Central is the largest Sheraton in the world, and Macau’s single-largest hotel with a total guestroom count of 3,896. The main ballroom is the size of more than 11 basketball courts, and the tower has more than 14,864 sqm of meeting space.
Sands Cotai Central may have added a mind-boggling number of rooms to the Cotai Strip, but it hasn’t slowed development down elsewhere. MGM resorts recently won approval from the Macau government to build its a second casino in Cotai, with approximately 1,600 hotel rooms and 500 gambling tables. Inspired by the Hollywood Roosevelt Los Angeles, which is located on LA’s walk of fame, the Hollywood Roosevelt Macau will also open in the city in 2015 within close proximity to the Cotai Strip, and the 373-room property will feature a modern take on1950s Hollywood glam. Steve Wynn will also be opening a new US$4 billion resort, Wynn Palace, on the Cotai Strip in 2016. Later down the line, JW Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, W and Tang Hotel are scheduled to open in 2017 as part of phase two of Galaxy Macau.
While the value of the casino market to the city cannot be overstated – it is now worth six times that of Vegas and generated a recording-breaking US$38 billion in 2012 – it is easy to avoid the tables, according to DOC Simões. “The market perception of casinos is far larger than the experience of most groups in Macau. The cultural and historical side of Macau is really interesting but remains, for the most part, unknown. We have many, many groups that stay a few days here without ever entering a casino.” Some of the activities this DMC offers, for example, include sky drumming from the Macau Tower and a wine-making academy (see box on next page).
Other team-building activities that can be arranged from the Macau Tower include Skywalk X, where clients walk around the outer rim of the Macau Tower without any handrails using an overhead rail system. “They take in the best views of Macau and take home the photos of themselves hanging out on the edge,” says Elsa Law, administration Manager at AJ Hackett, the adventure tourism group that organises the walk. She adds they have accommodated ages from two years to 94 years old with a maximum of 25 people to each walk.
Alternatively, AJ Hackett offers the even more daring Tower Climb from the 61st floor of Macau Tower, where delegates ascend 100 metres of vertical ladders both inside and outside the tower masts before they reach the peak and very tip of the mast at 338 metres. Climbers take home the experience on both photos and video, and the two daily scheduled trips take 1.5 to 2 hours. Time-strapped groups looking for an adrenalin rush can book the Tower Climb Express activity, which takes 30 minutes and can accommodate a maximum of six people each climb, says Law.
Encouraged by the Chinese government, there has been a concerted effort to detract attention from the gaming tables with shows such as aquatic extravaganza House of Dancing Water, which celebrated its 1,000th performance this February, and seductive cabaret show Taboo, which debuted last Summer at the City of Dreams. Drawing inspiration from the large-scale magic shows at Vegas, master of illusion Franz Harary and Hong Kong sweetheart Fiona Sit, who performed a Houdini-style performance at City of Dreams in which the two made a dramatic escape from a packing crate suspended ten stories above the resort as an attention-grabbing precursor to the magician’s shows at the Grand Hyatt Macau this August.
In addition to the House of Dancing Water and Taboo, the City of Dreams also hosts multimedia show Dragon’s Treasure at The Bubble, a dome-shaped theatre created especially for the show, and virtual underwater world Vquarium, which features sea creatures and computer-generated mermaids. During 2014, the City of Dreams is looking forward to: “meeting planners who are seeking personalised, upscale experiences for their delegates in more intimate venues,” says a spokesperson for the resort, who adds, “MICE organizers are being more selective in when they meet and who attends. Meanwhile, companies are steering away from the traditional, formal meetings and looking to business meetings with added value on top of typical lunches and dinners. They are looking for other entertainment options to add incentives for their employees, or to impress their clients with a memorable, extraordinary series of premium experiences. Companies are still willing to pay for a premium experience, but they expect more value and want to do it in a unique setting. Our diverse entertainment options are seen as great added value for MICE groups.”
Not to be outdone, Sands Cotai Central upped the entertainment stakes with the introduction of the Dreamworks Experience this July. Supported by the Macau Government Tourist Office, the Dreamworks Experience represents a resort licensing agreement between Sands China and DreamWorks Animation that brings well-known characters and franchises such as Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon, Shrek and Madagascar to events throughout Cotai Strip Resorts at Sands Cotai Central and The Venetian Macao. The Venetian Macao, for example, will host Ice World with the Dreamworks Gang from November until March. Now in its third year, Asia’s biggest indoor ice event will feature ice sculptures of popular Dreamworks characters such as Shrek and Kung Fu Panda, and a huge ice slide will also form part of the event. The Venetian has also hosted some of the biggest names in music this year, with Rihanna and Justin Beiber both making their Asia debuts at the Cotai Arena. This December, the arena will host the Cantopop legends George Lam and Chiu Tsang Hei.
Screenings and team building
Over at Galaxy Macau, the UA Galaxy cinema complex offers nine 3D-ready screens with planetarium seating that can serve as private auditoriums for private speaking engagements and presentations. The 400-person Grand Theatre also has a stage area for performances and a VIP balcony. Four premium director’s clubs offer groups private screenings with butler service.
Popular team building activities include sushi workshops at Yamazato restaurant, Thai cooking, beach volleyball, surfing and African drumming “The sushi making workshop is a quick and easy team-building activity that would appeal to all – whether male or female, fit or unfit, skilled or unskilled. It can also be easily combined into a working lunch to maximise time in the busy itinerary. Following the team-building exercise, guests will be able to enjoy their creations along with a sumptuous Kaiseki lunch,” says a spokesperson for the resort.
For corporate groups that are looking for a location for a relaxed team dinner, lifestyle event area Oasis, which overlooks lush tropical gardens, is a good choice, as there is an outdoor grill for casual barbecues and live cooking performances can be organised from the resort’s award-winning culinary team. Nightclub China Rouge, meanwhile, has previously hosted a cocktail for a luxury watch brand and an annual party of a leading telecommunications provider in the Asia-Pacific region.
Securing Macau’s future
Asked if Macau can ever compete on a level playing field with Hong Kong, Simões admits the city needs to upgrade its ferry terminal facilities and increase the frequency of ferries to Hong Kong Airport. But in terms of sheer size and scale, he says that Hong Kong is struggling to compete. “The city is gaining a definite advantage over Hong Kong as it can cater to large groups needing 1,000 or more rooms. Where can you find these facilities in Hong Kong?”
To compete with world-class MICE destinations such as Seoul and Sydney, Simões adds that Macau could also work on improving the incentives it offers to corporate groups “We would like to have more back of the house opportunities, for example. Often clients are very interested to understand how these huge properties and shows are run.”