The former Portuguese enclave of Macao has been the focal point of great change as it expands as a genuine global centre for leisure and tourism.

With some of the world’s largest branded hotels gracing its landscape, Macao is more than capable of catering for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions – large or small.

And word from the Special Administrative Region is that contemporary change will continue to shape its skyline well into the next decade.

“Blink for one second and you’re almost certain to miss the opening of another international standard attraction, hotel, restaurant or store,” said Helen Wong, general manager of the Macao Government Tourism Office Australia and New Zealand.

“In 1999, the year Macao was handed back to mainland China, the former Portuguese enclave boasted 9469 hotel rooms,” she said.

At the end of 2015, there were a staggering 32,608 rooms available, thanks in recent years to the opening of such large establishments as the world’s largest Sheraton Grand hotel, Conrad Macao, the Holiday Inn, St Regis, Ritz-Carlton, J W Marriott, Studio City, Harbourview and Broadway, to name a few.

“In two years’ time, this figure is expected to eclipse 50,000.”

The good news is that despite the rapid move to modernisation, the changes have been made without affecting the Asian centre’s treasured five centuries of mixed colonial-oriental heritage.

For a former Portuguese enclave that thrives on restoring and showcasing its colourful UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites and the traditional festivals and events that accompany them, Macao has a great deal more to offer visitors, whether they call on a business trip or a bit of R&R.

The number of annual festive events has grown, so too the events themselves. On one day in December 2015, Macao hosted a marathon and mini marathon in the morning followed by a colourful Latin Parade and the launch of a spectacular Light Festival similar to Sydney’s popular Vivid.

It has hosted many an international act… Katie Perry, Madonna, the Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga, Jessie J to name a few.

Of the recent changes to Macao’s cityscape, many have centred on the Cotai area of reclaimed land linking the islands of Taipa and Coloane, where new ritzy themed precincts have evolved, complete with luxury international hotels, a diverse range of restaurants, cafes and designer label shops.

Even the entertainment programs offer more variety with much more to come for families as much as couples and MICE groups.

Opening at Sands Cotai this year is a new theme park – Planet J – the world’s first playercentric “Live Action Role Play” theme park where players are immersed in the action.

“As the first permanent theme park in the precinct, Planet J redefines theme parks in the 21st Century,” said Ms Wong.

“Macao continues to evolve in 2016, and will do so for years to come,” she said.

“The changes to the landscape have been dramatic in recent months, in particular on the Cotai Strip where the Sands, Galaxy and City of Dreams dominate.

“Over the next 12 months and beyond we will see further new additions such as Planet J ensuring that visitors are offered more attractions, activities and accommodation options from which to choose when deciding on a holiday or business-related stay in this special corner of Asia.

“We are going through exciting times, so swift that if you hadn’t been to Macao for a couple of years you would be amazed by the transformation. Yet the old UNESCO World Heritage-listed Macao remains a prime tourist attraction.”

Moves are underway in tiny historic Taipa village to create a festive atmosphere along the narrow lanes and quaint squares with the opening of new restaurants and art galleries alongwith additional street performances near the lovingly maintained colonial-style Taipa Houses.

In recent months, Macao’s nearby Cotai area has seen the Hollywood-style red carpet opening of the Art Deco Studio City, along with the expansion of the nearby Galaxy precinct and the opening of the lavish St. Regis Macau hotel within the neighbouring Sands precinct.

In the latter half of 2016, Macao will see another exciting hotel addition, the Parisian, with the Eiffel Tower already in place for the yet-to-be-confirmed opening date.

In further expanding the Macao Cotai landscape, 2016 will see the opening of the MGM Cotai and the Wynn Palace which will house the highly acclaimed and stunning floral sculpture of a carousel, designed by Preston Bailey and on show in Las Vegas.

In 2017, the City of Dreams’ new hotel tower will open along with the highly-anticipated SJM’s Lisboa Palace, a scaled model of project on show within glass in the foyer of the majestic Grand Lisboa on Macao’s peninsula.

Meanwhile, construction has continued on the above-ground multi-million dollar Light Rapid Transit light rail system which will ultimately link each of these major holiday resorts.

On the Macao peninsula, home to a majority of the colonial churches and squares and Chinese temples under the centre’s UNESCO World Heritage protection, two new international hotels – the Prague-inspired Harbourview Hotel and the maritime themed Crowne Plaza – have opened their doors within the past 12 months.

Perhaps the largest project planned for opening within the next three years is the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge which will span 35.6kms and drive additional visitors to Macao.