Thursday, September 6, 2007

Casino Colossus

The newly opened $2.4 billion Venetian Macao Resort has joined other casino groups in the city trying to expand as quickly as it can to meet the growing thirst for leisure and entertainment by increasingly affluent spenders in the region.

They are making big bets to turn Macao from a gambling paradise into a family entertainment center that can compete with Las Vegas. Casino developers from around the world have rushed to set foot in Macao since the era of the gambling monopoly ended.

But instead of only gambling, they now boast luxury rooms and upscale ambience and try to differentiate themselves with eye-catching colors and style, but what they want from guests is the same - longer stays and more spending.

The Venetian, operated by Las Vegas giant Sands, says it is the world's largest casino. The casino has 3,000 rooms - a 65 percent increase to Macao's supply of five-star accommodations - a fleet of gondolas along its shop-lined canals and what looks to be a full-scale version of Venice's landmark Bridge of Sighs.

The group, which had $1.8 billion at stake when the casino opened, says its strategy is to attract Asian visitors, already enthusiastic gamblers, to stay longer, bring their families and spend heavily at the luxury stores in the casino.

On its opening day last week, some 160 out of 350 stores were in operation at the Venetian. By contrast, Wynn Macau, run by United States gambling tycoon Stephen Wynn, has a dozen luxury brand stores.

Las Vegas Sands said earlier it would spend 80 to 90 billion yuan to invest in Macao to help upgrade the gaming hub into a genuine entertainment center, where exhibitions, shopping and big shows will contribute a considerable portion to revenue.

William Weidner, Las Vegas Sands president and CEO tells China Business Weekly in an interview that the hotel will be an integrated resort. "We will gradually improve the non-gaming segment and hope that the two segments will reach a balance point in a decade," says Weidner.

The Venetian even chose to open on an auspicious day for Chinese, August 28, while Wynn Macao Resort that opened last year chose the local favorite color of red as the theme in the lobby.

"Wynn Macao resort is not simply a gambling house, we have 'severything entertaining here for all family members, and guests can stay here as long as they want without getting bored," says Wynn.

Sands Macao, the first US-operated casino in Macao, attracted a huge swarm of guests, both gamblers and the plainly curious when it opened three years ago. Its first-year profits exceeded the total cost of the project, according to the company.

Macao's average gambler, usually a solo traveler, makes a one-day trip from Hong Kong or nearby mainland cities in the Pearl River Delta. They spend an average of only 1.26 days in the territory and even that average is inflated by the many Hong Kong residents who work in Macao Monday through Friday and go home on weekends.

In comparison, the average visitor to Las Vegas spends three to four days.

"Hosting large scale exhibitions and shows would be a good chance to get (day-trippers) to stay longer," says Joao Manuel Costa Antunes, Director of Macao Government Tourist Office.

"The good news is that there are a growing number of mainland tourists visiting Macao. The mainland has overtaken Hong Kong as our biggest tourist market," Antunes says. "The mainland customer is the highest spending tourist on retail in the world. We expect them come here more often."

No comments: