The concept of integrated resorts (IR) – a one-stop-shop for all your accommodation and entertainment needs – was introduced to Asia with the arrival of The Venetian Macao in 2007. This spearheaded a sensational transition for the region of Macau, which has since gone from sleepy ex-Portuguese colonial outpost to a veritable Vegas on steroids. Last year, casinos in the Chinese Special Administrative Region collected MOP360.7 billion (US$45.1 billion) in gaming revenues according to the Macau Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau.
Vegas may have double the number of casinos – around 80 compared to approximately 40 in Macau – but the latter generates considerably more revenue than the original sin city. Wynn Resorts, which operates casino resorts in both cities, recently revealed that in the second quarter of 2013 Wynn Vegas made US$401.4 million, while the Macau property’s net revenues were over double of that at US$930.9 million.
Figures such as these have lured investors keen to cash in on the Asian population’s increasing wealth, with IRs popping up in Singapore, Vietnam and South Korea among other locations. Not all follow the conventional casino-accommodation-meeting facilities format that appeal to corporate clients looking for a suitable work/play venue where they can splash some cash. Others are more family-oriented, offering activities and excursions in the surrounding area, shopping venues and golf courses. But they all have one thing in common: Asia is their number one target market.
Three major new projects include the Grand Ho Tram Strip in Vietnam, KSL Resort on the Malaysia-Singapore border and The Star in Sydney, which recently reopened following renovation. Michael Santangelo, chief operating officer of the Vietnam establishment, confirms that Asia is emerging as the main player in the “destination property” industry. “International travel operators within Asia are a key target for us. We are broadly looking at an intra-Asia base for our travellers,” he says.
An overview of the different offerings these properties have integrated into their resorts reveals a desire to attract different sectors of the Asia market spectrum, from corporate groups, to families, to high rollers.
THE GRAND-HO TRAM STRIP
OPENED: July 2013
LOCATION: Two-and-a-half hour’s drive from Ho Chi Minh City, on the east coast of Vietnam in Phuoc Thuan village, Xuyen Moc District, Ba Ria Vung Tau Province.
COST: VND10,546,249 (US$500 million)
FEATURES: The 541-room resort offers five room categories, from the Grand Double to the Grand Ocean View King.
There are seven restaurants and bars onsite: fine dining Cantonese restaurant Ju Bao Xuan, Vietnamese eatery Bistro La Mer, international buffet and a la carte outlet Ginger, noodles and dim sum shop 8 Dragons, as well as coffee shop Ca Phe Le Monde, Dunes bar and grill, nightspot Club 9 and Churchill’s Cigar Bar.
The beachfront property also boasts three pools, a spa, gym, kid’s club and teen’s centre. A retail shopping area will follow next year.
CASINO: Casino with 99 live tables (mainly baccarat) and 1,100 electronic gaming positions spread over the VIP and mass gaming floor.
GOLF COURSE: A Greg Norman-designed, 18-hole golf course, the Bluffs, is set to open this year.
MEETING FACILITIES: There’s a 2,200-sqm convention centre with five meeting rooms, and a 1,250-sqm pillarless grand ballroom, divisable into four sections. There’s also freight access for automobile shows.
All facilities are kitted out with state-of-the-art facilities, including high resolution data projection systems and screens, sound and lighting equipment, and wireless internet access. The five meeting rooms are named Lotus, Bamboo, Banyan, Mangrove & Palm, and all feature a stunning beach backdrop.
The resort also provides support in the form of expert meeting planners and on-site audio and video assistance.
ROOM RATES: A mid-April stay costs VND2,820,300 (US$134) in a Grand Double and VND3,152,100 (US$150) in a Grand Ocean View Double.
VERDICTt: The huge variety of family oriented and leisure services on offer and competitive pricing will appeal to the mass market. While scenic and conducive to water sports, the location is a bit of a trek from Ho Chi Minh City.
OPENED: The original property, Star City Casino opened back in 1995. Following renovations, it reopened as the Star in September 2011 while its Event Centre welcomed guests for the first time this January.
LOCATION: Right on the waterfront at Sydney Harbour, 10 minutes’ walk from the city centre and a 20-minute drive to Sydney Airport.
COST: The redevelopment has cost A$800 million (US$762 million)
FEATURES: There are two hotels: the 650-room Darling Hotel and Spa has one-, two- and three-bedroom hotel suites and serviced apartments and penthouses, plus a 19-room spa. The Astral Tower and Residences, meanwhile, offers 479 rooms, suites, apartments and penthouses.
The Star also offers two rooftop pools, a health club and gym, luxury retail outlets, a theatre, and more than 20 restaurants and bars including Momofuku Seiobo, the Sydney branch of celebrated New York chef David Chang’s restaurant. Then there are also Australian contemporary restaurant Black by Ezard, Milanese restaurant Balla, and modern Japanese fusion cuisine from Sokyo.
CASINO: The only casino in New South Wales, this facility is also home to live music hub Rock Lily Pit and Cherry Pit, where guests can sip a cocktail overlooking Sydney Harbour.
MEETING FACILITIES: The new Event Centre can accommodate 4,000 guests for corporate or private events, and has hosted top music performers including Alicia Keys and Ricky Martin. It contains a 1,077-sqm column-free space and retractable seating with a capacity for 900 in a banquet layout. It also boasts high-tech sound equipment and outdoor venue The Deck, which can fit 1,000 and showcases the iconic harbour in all its glory. This centre has its own commercial, large-format kitchen, and has hosted more than 100 events – mostly multi-day corporate affairs – since opening at the beginning of the year.
ROOM RATES: A Darling Room at the Darling Hotel in mid-April costs A$263 (US$234) and a Jewel Suite with Spa is A$442 (US$393). Rates for the Astral Tower and Residences range from A$221 (US210) to A$501 (US$446) for a Deluxe Pyrmont room and three-bedroom residence respectively.
VERDICT: The location and services available at this property are spectacular – and this is reflected in the price tag.
OPENED: April 2012
LOCATION: In Johor Bahru, the Malaysian town that borders Singapore. It’s just five minutes to the causeway that connects the two countries, and 50 minutes to Singapore city centre. The closest airport is Senai International in Malaysia, which is 45 minutes away, while Singapore's Changi is an hour’s journey.
COST: RM500 million (US$157 million)
FEATURES: There are 868 hotel rooms and 400 one-, two- and three-bedroom condominium units to choose from. The property is directly linked to the KSL City Mall, which has more than 500 retail outlets, cinema, karaoke facilities and spa. There are three food and beverage outlets in the hotel: the Mission Golf Bar & Grill, art deco-style Twilight Lounge & Bar and Infusion Café Restaurant for buffet and a la carte. Other facilities include three golf simulators, a rooftop pool, sauna, gym, table tennis and billiards room, Cineplex and “Dinosaur Alive” – a park with 25-metre long models on show.
MEETING FACILITIES: There are 19 meeting rooms and a grand ballroom capable of seating 1,200 people theatre-style. There’s also the Panoramic Penthouse Suite, located on the 27th floor, which is ideal as a private boardroom or breakout space. This area offers views of the cityscape below.
The KSL Resort Conference Room, meanwhile, is Johor Bahru’s newest purpose built hotel convention facility and has a flexible layout and breakout rooms. All the meeting facilities have wifi, video-conferencing capabilities, and more.
ROOM RATES: One week night in mid-April costs MYR205 (US$62) for a Superior King room (no breakfast) and MYR630 (US$192) for a Junior Twin Suite (with breakfast).
VERDICT: Facility offerings are diverse and prices are very competitive, particularly compared to those in neighbouring Singapore. The huge number of rooms – no doubt incorporated to satisfy overspill from the city-state next door – will, however, generate crowds as well as cash. While up-and-coming, Johor Bahru in itself has little to offer as a destination – although Legoland and Hello Kitty Town are both only a 20-minute drive away from the resort.
Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City is the closest gateway to The Grand – Ho Tram Strip, and is about three hours’ drive away. Many international carriers fly here, including Dragonair, Vietnam Airlines, Singapore Airlines, China Southern and Korean Air.
Changi International Airport, meanwhile, is close to KSL Resort in Johor Bahru. This is one of the most well-connected and equipped airports in the world. From here, its about an hour to the causeway that connects to Malaysia, and a further 15 minutes to the resort. Senai International is just 45 minutes away, and relieves the need for a border crossing. Malaysia Airlines, Air Asia, Firefly and Malindo operate services here.
The Star is very well connected via Sydney International Airport, which receives services from most major international carriers.
National citizens from Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, The Philippines, Laos, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway don’t require a visa for Vietnam. For others, it can take up to four days and it costs around US$20.
Most do not need a visit to enter Malaysia. Australians and UK citizens can stay for three months, while Singaporean, Hong Kong and Thai nationals can stay for one month per visit. Mainland Chinese passport holders need a visa, which requires US$50 and two working days to obtain. Business visa fees may be higher.
For Australia, visa requirements vary. The majority of European nationals, including British, Swedish, German and French citizens, can get the e-visitor travel visa online free of charge, and it allows for a stay in Australia for up to three months. This visa can take up to 10 days to process. Select nationalities, including people from Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, US, Canada and South Korea can apply for the Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) visa. This costs AUS$20 (US$17), takes about 24 hours to receive, and can be applied for online at www.eta.immi.gov.au. Passport holders from the remaining countries, including Thailand and China, can get a normal Tourist Visa, which costs AUS$130 (US$114) and takes 10 working days. Prices tend to be higher for business visas.