Menu

Fast track Macao

Most discussions on Macao invariably start by comparing it with two other destinations. However, Alex Paik writes, Macao has long outgrown its reputation as the sleepy seaside cousin of bustling Hong Kong or the casino king that conquered Vegas.

Macao’s public and private sector have worked tirelessly to shatter these perceptions by pointing to Macao’s mighty meetings infrastructure along with its culturally-rich attractions seeped in Old World charm. Moreover, China’s long-term economic strategy for the region, along with Macao’s expert soft infrastructure behind its glimmering hotels are grooming the city to become a meetings industry mammoth with a never-ending appetite for international business

For many years, Macao has been a destination on the rise with room to grow. More and more large congresses are finding their way to Macao, such as the 29th Asia Pacific Dental Congress (3,500 pax) and a recent 2018 Nu Skin Convention (6,000 pax) just last month. However its 2017 ICCA ranking still places Macao at 65th worldwide and 16th in Asia. The city has 37,000 hotel rooms (over 40,000 expected by 2020) easily handling Macao’s 30 million annual visitors, and 190,000 sqm of meetings space that are not at capacity. Yet this does not tell the full story of the preparations going on, nor is this just a case of ‘if you build it, they will come’.

Infrastructure

Recent developments under China’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative are set to ignite rapid growth in Macao’s meetings industry. Once the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge opens to the public, it will only take 30 minutes to drive from Macao to Hong Kong International Airport (which serves over 190 destinations). Three billion people live within a five hours flight time of Macao, and this development is seen as so significant for Macao that some Hong Kong residents are concerned about the detriment to their own tourism industry.

Hong Kong Zhuhai Macao Bridge

This incredible upgrade in accessibility ties in with Macao’s role as a key knowledge hub for Portuguese-speaking countries under China’s vision of a New Silk Road. According to the President Jackson Chang of the Macao Trade and Investment Promotion Institute (IPIM), the city intends to, ‘utilise its unique strengths and actively engage in regional co-operation, seize the opportunities brought about by the “Belt and Road” initiative, the establishment of the pilot free trade zones on the Mainland, as well as jurisdiction over its coastal waters, to create enormous business opportunities for local and overseas investors’.

Already there has been a boost in trade fairs, with the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI) reporting Macao was the top performing trade market over the past five years, with net space sold recorded as the highest in the Asia-Pacific region.

This incredible upgrade in accessibility ties in with Macao’s as a key knowledge hub for Portuguese-speaking countries

Part of growth can be attributable to the IPIM’s subvention schemes, which extend beyond trade fairs to include international conferences and conventions as well. Eligible events can receive hefty financial support in several categories, including up to 25 per cent of venue rental fees, 30 per cent of accommodation fees, 50 per cent of promotional fees, up to 750 euro towards bringing keynote speakers, dining support of up to 50 euro per international participant, and other such as interpretation, transportation, and performances. The IPIM will also provide up to 20,000 euro in financial support for hire of professional local conference organizers to ensure smooth operation of the event.

At the center of Macao’s meetings transformation is Cotai Strip, which is an area of reclaimed land between Macao’s islands of Coloane and Taipa. All the brightest, newest hotels have staked their claim here, such as the MGM, Studio City, and Galaxy World. However the backbone of the city’s entire meetings industry is the Sands Resorts, which operates seven interconnected hotels – The Venetian, The Parisian, Four Seasons, the St. Regis, Hilton Conrad, Sheraton Grand Macao Hotel, and Holiday Inn. It also commands 150,000sqm out of the total 190,000sqm of meetings space in all of Macao, including the 15,000 capacity Cotai Arena and the lavish Parisian Ballroom (capable of 2,600 banquet style).

The strengths of the interconnected Sands Resorts were on full display in June 2018, when Sands held its three-day ‘Ultimate Download’ familiarization event for meetings professionals and media. The full flexibility and creativity of the Sands were showcased through its seamless coordination in everything from room blocks to venue logistics across all seven properties. Attendees were offered eco-friendly bespoke activities such as outdoor morning yoga and refreshing junk-boat tours around the islands, and treated to inspiring dining experiences that ranged from a Macanese market-themed lunch to full-on gala evenings featuring opera, magic, theater, and champagne poured from the air by cirque du soleil acrobats.

Beauty

According to Ruth Boston, senior VP of Marketing and Brand Management at Sands Resorts Macao, a key inspiration for their event offerings and themes is the city of Macao itself.

“One of the other key messages we particularly wanted to get across to participants at The Ultimate Download was the wonderful culture and heritage that is here in Macao, including its UNESCO world heritage sites. It is through events like these we can showcase not just the range and quality of our meeting facilities but also the wider beauty of Macao.”

Visitors to Macao will be delighted to discover a sensational cuisine culture that is burgeoning across the city. Once most famed for their local buttery egg tarts, Macao is now a newly minted UNESCO City of Gastronomy and home to a bevy of new Michelin star restaurants.  This delicious aspect of the city has been “adding to Macao’s credentials and profile for attracting both tourism and MICE business,”  according to a representative from IPIM. A recent example of this was the 47th Skal Asian Area Congress (June 22-26, 2018) held at the Fisherman’s Wharf Convention and Exhibition Centre, which covered subjects such as gastronomy tourism.

Safe and easily navigable, the city is also exotic yet approachable. The city’s beautiful blend of Portuguese and Chinese culture can be seen across its 25 UNESCO world heritage and of course in the distinct mix of European and Asian architecture throughout Macao. Also, the Macao Light Rapid Transit rail scheduled for completion in 2020 will connect key hotel districts with top attractions and city centers, making it perfect for busy business travelers who can only venture out of meetings for precious hours at a time.