Growing Macau Wants More U.S. Meetings Business

New York — The meteoric rise of Macau as a gaming destination has been duly noted by the industry: Since 2002, the island has grown exponentially from one, lone gaming operator to a melting pot of the world's most elite casino developers — a group that includes U.S. magnates Sheldon Adelson, Steve Wynn, and Kirk Kerkorian.

But the destination astounded analysts in January, when its gaming revenues edged ahead of those of the Las Vegas Strip, reporting a take of $6.95 billion in 2006 compared with the Strip's $6.6 billion.

The milestone can be attributed to Macau's record number of visitors last year. Arrivals in 2006 reached an all-time high of 21.99 million, a 17-percent surge over 2005, noted Joao Rodrigues, U.S. spokesperson for the Macau Government Tourist Office.

While North American arrivals increased 20 percent, Rodrigues said the majority of Macau's visitors were from mainland China. "The Americas — not just the U.S., but Canada and so on — are just one percent of visitors," he said.

Even so, Macau seeks to grow its U.S. meetings and incentive business in 2008 and 2009, said Rodrigues. One planner, HelmsBriscoe's Nedra Forrest, is inspecting Macau for a set of conferences to be held across the Far East.

Hotel construction continues unabated, with five new properties expected in the next two years, and 32 within the next five. "Within the next 10 years," said Rodrigues, "at least 58 new hotels are expected." Room inventory, he said, will grow from 12,000 to 50,000 units over that time.

One venue will soon be ready. The Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel, opening in June on the Kotai Strip, will offer 1.2 million square feet of meeting space, as well as a 15,000-seat arena.

The next ambitious project, the 35-acre Macao Studio City, broke ground in January. When completed, it will feature a 2,300-seat theatre, a 4,700-capacity arena and a convention center, television and film production facilities, and a 1.4-million-s.f. retail complex. Hoteliers that have signed onto Macao Studio City include Marriott International, which plans Marriott and Ritz-Carlton properties, and the Tang Hotel, a new boutique.

Since nothing breeds success like success, Richard Branson of the Virgin Group has been rumored to be in talks to manage a $3-billion resort, and a new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is planned for 2008.

Macau, now 17 square miles in size, is in no danger of buildout, since its landmass is expected to double within the next 20 years using reclaim from civil projects in mainland China and Southeast Asia.

"All their [excavations], such as when they move a mountain or create a tunnel for new railways, are being brought to Macau," said Rodrigues. "The area where the Venetian is built is actually two islands bridged together with landfill. The Mandarin Oriental Macau used to be a beachfront property; now in front of it is the Sands Macao and the Fisherman's Wharf entertainment area. That whole area is reclaim."

Contact Terri Hardin at [email protected]

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