The territory may have spent several centuries as a rather sleepy enclave but all that is changing, and changing fast. The influx of mostly US money and expertise is having an electrifying effect on Macau’s attraction to meeting and event planners worldwide.
The new wave of tycoons and investors has ensured that Macau has overtaken Las Vegas as the world’s top gaming centre. But the territory seeks to offer more than gambling and, just like its Nevada counterpart, the conventions and exhibitions industries have big plans for the future.
With its up-and-coming multi-billion-dollar entertainment complex and the Old World charm of its UNESCO heritage venues, Macau hopes to transform its image into that of a world-class events destination in just a few years.
Developing over 20,000 hotel rooms, under several world-renowned hotel brands, numerous food and beverage outlets, over 350 shops, a world-class arena and one of the largest convention spaces in Asia, Sheldon G Adelson, the chairman and chief executive of Las Vegas Sands, has put over US$1.8 billion investment into the Cotai Strip’s Venetian development.
Adelson believes his vision of turning Macau into “Asia’s Las Vegas” is unique. He is aware that sceptics perceive Macau as a purely gaming destination but his vision has one basic concept – everyone loves to be entertained.
“It’s a no-brainer. No one has ever come up to me and said, ’Look! The Japanese, the Koreans, the Taiwanese, they don’t like to be entertained!’ No one ever said that to me,” explains Adelson.
And entertainment will be at the heart of the Venetian project.
World-class shows such as Cirque du Soleil and the Blueman Show are on board. Also, an ongoing partnership with the NBA will provide a variety of international basketball events, for example the NBA All-star game.
Marcel Ewals, managing director of AsiaCongress, thinks the integrated resort concept removes many major problems for event organisers. “There are free shuttle services to and from the three access points; the airport, hydrofoil and land border. So transportation issues are removed and free for organisers to use for their delegates. Another benefit is that you can tap into the integrated resort’s entertainment network so you do not need outside events companies. But you can use in-house events such as Cirque du Soleil, a nice exceptional feature,” says Ewals.
Wolfram N Diener, vice president of conventions & exhibitions of Venetian Macau, believes the Venetian will offer conventions like no other in Asia.
Featuring a 15,000 fixed seat plenary hall, the Venetian provides a meeting complex that is equivalent to two standard-size soccer fields.
With the 3,000 guestrooms that the Venetian offers, it means that over 90% of all the conventions that exist in the world today could come to Macau and be accommodated under one roof.
The Macau Government Tourism Office (MGTO) believes Macau’s location makes it an excellent hub for side-trips. “Excursions across the border to Mainland China, for sightseeing and golf are easily arranged. Then there is Hong Kong, which can be readily packaged for a day’s shopping or visits,” says a MGTO spokesman.
Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts is one of the hotel brands in the Cotai Strip project. Symon Bridle, its chief operating officer, says besides hiring locals, it would bring in expertise from outside.
“Hiring people from around the region actually brings in an international flavour to the hotel,” adds Bridle.
With so many options for you to choose from, using heritage sites in Macau as your event venue can be quite unique. But even though it’s sometimes possible to hire these venues or use them as backdrops, bear in mind that it’s not easy to get permission. Make sure you send in your application to MGTO and it will study it on a case-by-case basis.
Situated halfway up the western slope of Barra Hill, A-Ma Temple is believed to be the oldest of the three principal old temples of Macau. Even though without exact records, the construction of the temple is believed to begin in the 15th century and it already existed before the city of Macau came into being. The temple consists of the Gate Pavilion, the Memorial Arch, the Prayer Hall, the Hall of Benevolence, the Hall of Guanyin and Zhengjiao Chanlin (A Buddhist pavilion), each forming a small part of the well-ordered complex.
Ruins of St Paul’s
As a symbolic altar to the city, the Ruins of St Paul’s refer to the façade of what was originally the Church of Mater Dei built in 1602 to 1640. The ruins of St Paul’s College, which stood adjacent to the Church, and the façade were both destroyed by fire in 1835.
As the city’s urban centre for centuries, Senado Square is still the most popular venue for public events and celebrations today. The square is surrounded by pastel-coloured neo-classical buildings, generating a consistent and pleasant Mediterranean atmosphere.
Lou Kau Mansion
Lou Kau Mansion, built in 1889, was one of the residences of Lou Kau, a wealthy Chinese merchant. Constructed in grey brick, this two-storey building is a typical Chinese house divided into a main hall with side wings. Although the house is typically Chinese in its structure, the decorative motifs also reflect the influence of Western architecture.
Dom Pedro V Theatre
Dom Pedro V Theatre, located on St Augustine’s Square, is one of the most important cultural landmarks in the local Macanese community, and it’s still being used for important public events and celebrations. This pale green building was built in 1860 with the essence of the neo-classical style.
Cirque du Soleil
Cirque du Soleil, one of the best-known shows ever, is creating a US$150-million brand-new show for the Venetian Macau. The show will open in the spring of 2008 in a theatre built to their specifications. Cirque du Soleil is recognised worldwide by its stage setting, visual effects and unique theatrical performances.
Blue Man Group
Blue Man Group is a well-known creative organisation that creates theatrical shows and concerts, which combine music, comedy and multimedia theatrics to produce a unique form of entertainment. The three performers signature themselves in blue grease paint, latex bald caps and black clothing during the show.
Director of food and beverage
The Westin Resort Macau
What events have you organised in Macau lately?
“I organised a regional forum for the International Aero Engines that combined two venues – the Grand Prix Museum and the Wine Museum.
First, we set up the pre-dinner cocktail at the Wine Museum. The guests toured the museum and then had a wine-tasting session. After that, they were called to go somewhere else for dinner – they had no idea where.
“Then we took the guests to the Grand Prix Museum next door for a tour. At the end, they had dinner inside the Grand Prix Museum, which really surprised the guests. For them, this was a very unique experience.”
Why did you choose to use these two museums?
“The Wine Museum makes guests feel like they are in a European environment, which gives them a unique experience. And, since the people of Macau are really proud of the Grand Prix here, the Grand Prix
Museum presents the signature of Macau to the guests. ”
As an F&B director, do you organise team-building related exercises?
“Yes. We arranged a cocktail competition in 2006 as a team-building exercise for a corporate client.
“People were divided into teams of four to six people. All the participants were top executives.
“We provided limited resources for them to create their signature cocktails. They were required to follow some basic rules, such as that at least two types of alcohol should be used to mix the drink.
“After the mixing, the group had to present the drink to the judges. The judges chose the winning group based on the name, colour and taste of the drink. Besides the drink itself, the level of cooperation between teammates, the presentation and selling skills were also judged. This activity was well received.
“We also organised a cooking competition. Each group was given a limited budget and a map of Macau. They needed to buy the ingredients themselves and then create a three-course meal.
“Some people had no cooking experience whatsoever and that was a real challenge for them. This activity really relied on teamwork.”
What do you think of Macau as a corporate events destination?
“What sets Macau apart is its cultural heritage. Heritage sites are a good way to show Macau to the world. But then again, it’s not easy to book those venues. Other than that, I think Macau has the right ingredients for events, but I also have to admit that the support we need is still not up-to-standard.
“In the meantime, we still need event support from Hong Kong. But I do think Macau has the potential to become a top MICE destination eventually.”
EventClicks Group Limited
What do you think of Macau as a corporate events destination?
“We’re extremely excited about the opportunities Macau will present when it is really up and running as an events destination. Certainly it is possible to hold a great conference or incentive programme currently in Macau due to its location and its the fact that there is something new to see or experience virtually every month.
“However, as it is still under development, the choices may be considered somewhat limited for an extensive programme particularly for a group who may have visited Macau previously.”
Are you organising any events in Macau?
“We are currently planning a small-scale incentive to Macau next month and with a concerted effort to seek out what is new. We?believe we have put together a programme that is quite unique, combining the traditional with the modern, providing a glimpse into both the old Macanese way of life as well as what the?glittering future holds.”
What’s good and what’s bad?
“It is great to see that Macau has managed to preserve much of its traditional architecture and villages which contrast wonderfully with the?incredible gaming resorts currently being built. On the logistics side, Macau is currently lacking a good choice of international standard destination management companies. However, for small groups, this does not present much of a problem as ground assistance can be provided out of Hong Kong. Of course, when the new hotels open, offering new services on the ground, Macau will be well on its way to becoming truly one of the great events destinations in Asia.”
What are the difficulties you have when organising events in Macau?
“For event organisers as with everywhere, it is obtaining permission from various government departments.
“Junior officials do not seem to appreciate that when you are bidding for events, despite them being three to four years in advance, we need to have replies within days and not months. Without this, it is very hard to win the events from other places. Fortunately, the MGTO recently opened an office for the MICE market. They have employed consultants and we have been free to express our concerns.”
What’s good and what’s not so good?
“The good side is its unique historical culture that has been beautifully preserved. It has unique food, which reflects the journeys of the Portuguese explorers and entrepreneurs.
“Every place has its problems. Ours is the old infrastructure and some of the outdated rules and regulations that still exist. But the authorities are aware of these and are dealing with them.”
What effects do you think the upcoming development will have on Macau?
“The major client feedback has frequently been?that they did not know just how much there was to do in Macau. The major effect will be that Macau will no longer be a secret. People will have heard of us and we will be projected from the 18th century into the 21st century at a very fast pace.”
The Wine and Grand Prix Museums are located in the heart of the city in the same building, the Tourism Activities centre.
Tel: (+853) 7984188
The Wine Museum is located around the corner from the local Tourist Office. The museum houses around 1,115 wines (756 commercial wines and 359 collection wines).
Grand Prix Museum
Tel: (+853) 7984108
Macau Grand Prix is Macau’s signature event in Macau, which includes a number of automobile and motorbike races and takes place every year in November. This museum opened in 1993 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this event. Inside the museum, you can see a collection of magnificent machines that raced and won the Guia circuit – one of the most exciting racing circuits in the world.
Airport to city centre
• Helicopter – a 16-minute flight from Hongkong Ferry Terminal to Macau www.heliexpress.com
• Aircraft – Macau International Airport on Taipa Island is 15 minutes from Macau Ferry Terminal. Around a dozen airlines fly to and from Macau, connecting several cities in Mainland China, Taiwan, Korea and Southeast Asia. For more details, log on to: www.macau-airport.com
• Ferry – an hour’s ride from Hongkong Ferry Terminal or Hongkong International Airport to Macau. See www.turbojet.com.hk and www.nwff.com.hk
A former Portuguese colonial territory, Macau returned to Chinese control as a Special Administrative Region in 1999.
Chinese (spoken Cantonese) and Portuguese are the official languages; English is also commonly used.
Most European and Asian passport holders don’t need a visa to enter Macau.