The perception of Macau as a solely-gaming destination is gradually eroding, but accessibility has to extend beyond the Greater China region to secure more MICE business.
by KRISTIE THONG
The Macau of today is a reflection of the local government’s resolve and efforts to transform it into a business events destination.
A renowned casino destination aiming to diversify revenue streams, the government placed the promotion of the convention and exhibitions industry under its Macau Economic Services division in 2011. The latter promptly set up the Conventions and Exhibitions and Economic Activities Development Department. The wheels were finally set in motion, with the department centralising the implementation of promotional, supportive and directional policies.
Many signs are indicative of Macau’s success in transforming into a mature MICE market, from majestic integrated resorts and luxury hotel brands with comprehensive event facilities to an efficient transportation network of shuttle buses from the ferry terminal. With more emphasis placed on incentive travel and team-building, Macau has also started playing up its diverse attractions with much success. Home to several UNESCO World Heritage sites and other historic and cultural relics, it also offers a contrasting side to the dazzling Cotai Strip where all the action apparently is.
“The introduction of greater diversity in entertainment and lifestyle options has ideally positioned Macau for continued success, and its attraction as a MICE destination is set to grow exponentially,” Grand Hyatt Macau general manager Paul Kwok says.
Success from diversity
Macau welcomed 422,063 MICE visitors this year in the period up to the second quarter (Statistics and Census Service of Macau – DSEC), with the majority from Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Sheraton Macao Hotel, Cotai Central general manager of sales and marketing, Ruth Boston, confirms that these countries continue to be Macau’s largest source markets for MICE.
“Both domestic leisure and business-related travel in Greater China continues to rise, and today around 70 per cent of guests at the Sheraton Macao Hotel are from the Greater China region, including China, Hong Kong and Taiwan,” she says.
Sheraton Macao Hotel is the newest and largest convention hotel located on the Cotai Strip with the most extensive event facilities in Macau. One of the few hotels in Asia that is large enough to host large-scale events of over 5000 delegates under one roof, it boasts a unique FIT meetings concept created to ensure attendees are mentally and physically charged. Through wellness tips, fitness and recovery tools, healthy dining options and group workouts, the programme integrates recommended breaks focused on four main ideas – Mindset (prepare for it), Nutrition (fuel for it), Movement (train for it), and Recovery (rest for it).
It has been organising familiarisation trips promoting the FIT meetings concept as well as themed-event experiences available in the property, such as CSI: The Experience – Macau, where guests can learn the scientific principles and real investigative techniques whilst trying to solve some crime scene mysteries.
Regular MICE offers are doled out to ensure Sheraton Macao Hotel remains attractive to MICE clients, while it continually works with the Macau Trade and Investment Promotion Institute and other hotels on the Cotai Strip.
“This is a destination effort,” Ms Boston adds.
For integrated resort Galaxy Macau, massive plans are already under way to attract more MICE business to Macau, and to its doorstep. Occupying an area of 550,000 square metres, it comprises three luxury hotel brands – Banyan Tree Macau, Hotel Okura Macau and Galaxy Hotel, meeting facilities, casino, the world’s largest skywave pool, cinema complex, over 50 F&B outlets and 20 retail shops, and spa. Currently starting the second out of three expansion phases, the integrated resort is planning to offer a total of five hotels, 200 retail shops, and more meeting facilities and general entertainment.
“We are developing our product very rapidly in the market,” says assistant vice-president, hotel and banquet sales, Samson Woo.
Galaxy has been experiencing an increase in incentive group numbers particularly from Taiwan, popular amongst direct marketing and insurance companies.
Mr Woo believes the architecture of Galaxy Macau is its USP, where the location of the casino within the integrated resort eliminates the possibility of selected MICE groups avoiding Macau properties due to them being associated with gaming.
“We have a casino as one of our core products. The way Galaxy is built, the casino sits in the centre. But if you wish to access other places within the resort, visitors do not have to walk through the casino,” he says.
Grand Hyatt Macau, the luxury hotel tied to Melco Crown Entertainment’s flagship integrated entertainment resort, City of Dreams, has recorded over 5 per cent growth in MICE comparing the first and second half of 2013. Over four years since its opening, event planners have been attracted to the variety of unique event themes and facilities available at the hotel, as well as the diverse range of dining and entertainment offerings at City of Dreams.
City of Dreams is home to The House of Dancing Water, touted as the largest and most spectacular water-based show ever staged, as well as TABOO, a seductive hit show of secret fantasies. It also boasts the Michelin-starred The Tasting Room, and Dragon Treasure, an immersive 360-degree multi-media show showcased in a dome-shaped theatre.
Reaching beyond greater china
The outstanding offerings of Macau properties aside, the existing challenge of inaccessibility remains a hindrance to the destination trying to attract MICE groups coming from beyond the Greater China region.
The lack of frequent direct flights is a contributing factor to the typical short visitor length of stays, which although has improved significantly over the years, remain modest.
“The issue has always been the short length of stay, mostly because people are coming from short distances,” says Galaxy Macau vice-president, revenue management and sales, Paul Town.
“When you look at the percentage of visitors that arrive by air, it hasn’t changed much for the last seven years. But we’re slightly better served with Southeast Asia than we used to be. The more [air] accessibility we can get, it will further improve our MICE business,” he says.
But local players remain optimistic. While Macau does not have direct connectivity from the US and Europe, its international airport is now served by 23 international airlines. It is a 45-minute ferry ride from various parts of Hong Kong and China, while a bridge slated for 2015-2016 is under way.