Raising the Stakes in Asian Gaming

Asia-Pacific gaming resorts are pulling out all the stops to attract international meeting groups

Venetian Macao

Asia-Pacific gaming resorts in such destinations as Macau and Singapore are attracting visitors -- and skyrocketing gaming revenues -- from around the world. Last year, Macau raked in a record $45.2 billion in gaming revenues. By comparison, Las Vegas generated gaming revenues of $11 billion in 2013. A little less than a four-hour flight away from Macau, in Singapore, the city-state's two casinos - Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa - brought in $6 billion, an impressive amount in a country where casinos weren't allowed to operate until 2010.

When it comes to gaming, it's clear that China's Macau, a former Portuguese colony, is the undisputed gaming capital of the world. Last year, the special administrative region welcomed a total of 29.3 million visitors, and it currently has more than 30 hotel casinos, with more on the way, including the Wynn Palace (scheduled to open in early 2016). A St. Regis is being added to Sands Cotai Central (home to the Sheraton Macao Hotel, Cotai Central; Conrad Macao; and Holiday Inn Macao) and The Parisian Macao, from Sands China, is expected to open in late 2015. In 2017, the Lisboa Palace, which will include a 270-room tower designed by Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld, is expected to open.

[--image id='Bungee jumping Macau Tower'--]

Like Las Vegas, Macau is also a gaming destination in constant evolution. Today, Macau's non-gaming features - cutting-edge hotels and resorts, a variety of entertainment options, rich historical heritage, and culinary highlights - are also attracting a variety of travelers, including meeting groups. The same holds true for Singapore -- another city that continues to reinvent itself. While these destinations offer gaming, it's everything else that they have that's drawing groups from around the world.

"Macau is a gaming destination, yes, and you can go to some of the hotels there that are very similar to the ones we have in Vegas but there's still a different flair to it," says Laurie Miller, senior account manager for The Performance Group, a meetings, incentives, and event management company based in the Bay Area of California. "You can have that gaming feel but once you step outside, you have that wonderful Asian culture right outside the doors. There's still a great local feel in Macau."

Macau's distinct local culture is a blend of Chinese and Portuguese influences. "Macau has more than 600 years of Sino-Portuguese heritage," explains Brendon Elliott, vice president of sales and resort marketing for the Venetian Macau Limited. "You can find everything from a modern large-scale integrated resort like the Venetian Macao to the 15th-century A-Ma Temple and 22 other UNESCO World Heritage sites in a place that's the size of Manhattan."

Since 2011, The Performance Group's Miller has helped organize four high-tech industry meetings in Macau, and each, she says, has been a success for her clients. Her first group of 725 attendees met at the Grand Hyatt Macau Hotel in 2011; the second group of 825 delegates met in 2012, also at the Grand Hyatt. Most recently, she hosted two groups (one for 725 attendees and another for 450) at the Sheraton Macao Hotel, Cotai Central.

"Our company has found that it really is the pricing and the facilities that are the biggest factors for our clients," Miller says, referring to her clients' decisions to meet in Macau. "The entertainment is all there, and people love the casinos and the entertainment. It's small, and easy to get around, and everything is self-contained. It's a very easy city to work within. For my clients, Macau was a really affordable Asia-Pacific destination that was easy to get to and fly in and out of, and the pricing was great."

The Macau Government Tourist Office also offers a variety of incentives to meeting and incentive programs, making the destination more affordable for organizations that are especially large. The Conventions and Exhibitions and Economic Activities Development Department of the Macao Economic Services has developed a special International Meeting and Trade Fair Support Program. International meetings of 200 or more attendees from at least five countries may qualify for assistance and support from the local government, including basic marketing materials, as well as subsidized accommodations, F&B packages, and accommodations and transportation for keynote speakers and heads of delegation. Confirmed trade fairs can also receive financial support related to venue rental, accommodations, promotion, and marketing.

The levels of service Miller found in Macau were also impressive, she says. "The customer service was so wonderful. We were the Sheraton's first large group in December 2012; the hotel had just opened two weeks before. We were a little scared, but were so pleasantly surprised. The staff went above and beyond our expectations, and the client was so happy. It was a well-oiled machine."

The amount of meeting space to be found in Macau is significant - and will continue to grow. Sands China, which owns a majority of the properties on the Cotai Strip -- a piece of reclaimed land that connects Macau's two major islands of Coloane and Taipa -- has 1.5 million square feet of MICE space alone. This includes the nearly 1.2 million square feet of meeting space at The Venetian Macao, which includes the Cotai Expo, one of the largest pillar-less ballrooms in Asia (almost 70,000 square feet), and the Cotai Arena, which can seat up to 15,000.

The Arena has played host to such acts as Rihanna, Alicia Keys, The Rolling Stones, and Celine Dion. The City of Dreams resort complex, which is adjacent to Sands Cotai Central, is also home to "The House of Dancing Water," an extravagant Cirque-esque, water-based production that was produced by Franco Dragone Entertainment Group, the same group behind "Le Reve" at Wynn Las Vegas.

Singapore's Integrated Resorts 
Like Macau, Singapore offers striking cultural experiences for groups.

"Singapore is a cultural melting pot where different countries converge for knowledge and business exchanges," says Mike Lee, vice president of sales for the Marina Bay Sands. "The vibrant leisure and cultural landscape allow meeting planners to be creative and flexible in customizing their meeting programs. This allows for an immersive and enriching experience that will bring about multiple rewards for the organizer and the delegates."

When Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa opened in 2010, they had a dramatic impact on Singapore's tourism landscape. Prior to their openings, gambling was not permitted in Singapore. Today, both integrated resorts are thriving and attracting a number of MICE groups, as are the rest of the country's MICE venues and properties. In 2013, Singapore hosted 175 international congress and convention association events, a 16.7 percent increase from 2012.

"The integrated resort model works best for MICE customers because of the combination of MICE facilities, luxury accommodations, world-class entertainment, endless shopping and dining, all right in the heart of Singapore," says Lee. "It simply means that meeting organizers and delegates can enjoy endless opportunities to combine business with pleasure conveniently, from morning to night."

Marina Bay Sands' Sands Expo and Convention Centre, with nearly 1.3 million square feet of flexible space, can accommodate up to 45,000 delegates at one time, and is particularly focused on being a sustainable meeting venue, with the implementation of its own Sands ECO360˚ program, which helps planners put together green meetings. The property's rooftop, Sands SkyPark, which features a 492-foot-long infinity pool, can also be used for meetings and events.

Resorts World Sentosa, located on the island of Sentosa, just south of Singapore's central business district, offers a variety of accommodations and attractions that include Marine Life Park (S.E.A. Aquarium and Adventure Cove Waterpark); a Universal Studios Singapore theme park; and restaurants from the likes of celebrity chefs Joël Robuchon and Cat Cora. Six different hotel properties, each with its own unique theme, comprise a total of more than 1,500 guest rooms. The Resorts World Convention Centre can accommodate more than 35,000 delegates at one time with a total of 25 function rooms and a pillar-less Compass Ballroom that can accommodate up to 6,500 seated. At Marine Life Park, attendees can hold events in spaces that highlight the more than 100,000 marine animals that call the aquarium home. Universal Studios Singapore can also host a variety of group events.

And as these Asia-Pacific gaming destinations continue to evolve and expand, one thing that will keep groups coming back, says Miller, is their ability to work with groups from around the world.

"Macau is still growing every day," says Miller. "For me, Macau's pricing differs so vastly because yes, it is a gaming destination, but the prices are still very reasonable. Macau, as a destination, is very willing to work with clients to try to meet their needs. They work with you, and our group experiences, especially at the Sheraton, made our groups really feel special."

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