Surprises to greet visitors

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 October, 2010, 12:00am

From the glitzy shows at the City of Dreams and Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel to swish nightclubs and eateries, Macau is nurturing its own style. Balancing the glamour of the Cotai Strip is the appeal of old Macau, the centre of which is preserved as a Unesco World Heritage Site, and concerts and festivals. There's something for everyone - that's Macau's style.

More than five million Hongkongers visited Macau in the first eight months of this year, and total visitor numbers reached 16.7 million, up 18 per cent from last year, according to Macau government figures. Mainlanders accounted for the most visitors at 8.9 million, Hong Kong second, and Taiwan third with 890,183, while Japan is fourth with 271,374.

Improved international connections at Macau International Airport are paying dividends: arrivals jumped by 7.2 per cent to 1,087,040, with most arriving from Taiwan, the mainland and Malaysia.

Air Macau started a direct flight to Tokyo last March and Indonesian carrier Mandala Airlines launched a thrice-weekly route from Jakarta on July 21. An Air Macau service to Hefei and Ningbo is due to start on December 1, while travel industry sources say another overseas carrier will begin flights to India.

There are plenty of new attractions for visitors arriving by ferry, air, or overland via Zhuhai, says Joao Manuel Costa Antunes, director of the Macau Government Tourist Office. He says visitors will be satisfied whether their tastes tend towards casinos or culture.

'Macau is offering new surprises to visitors: new hotels and mega resorts, luxurious shopping malls and state-of-the art convention and exhibition facilities. But its invaluable heritage is still the heart and soul of the city, and the mix of East and West is the core element of our tourism product,' Antunes says.

Macau is on the map for the world's top performers, whether in music, performing arts or sport.

Visitors are also staying longer in Macau, drawn by attractions such as Cirque de Soleil's Zaia at the Venetian Macao casino, and the recently opened HK$2 billion House of Dancing Water at the City of Dreams, which boasts the world's largest water-based show in a purpose-built, 2,000-seat theatre. A team of 77 performers from all over the world deliver a breathtaking 90-minute performance.

Venues such as Mandarin House and Macau Science Centre, which opened earlier this year, plus the forthcoming Macau Giant Panda Habitat add to the city's changing entertainment and tourism landscape. The Galaxy Resort complex is also due to open early next year.

Some analysts are concerned the increased competition could detract from the charm of more established venues, but event industry specialist Benjamin Fox, of Offsite Connections Event Management, believes the Venetian, for example, can soak up the interest from new markets. 'Venetian Macao constantly offers new entertainment options from sports to concerts,' Fox says. 'Also, it is still one of the most amazing hotel properties in the world and so many people have yet to discover it. 'The Indian market loves it and is now coming in droves. The House of Dancing Water can only help the overall scene in Macau and drive tourist and [conference and incentive group] numbers up overall. The House of Dancing Waters is creating a larger pie and everyone will gain from that.'

Fox points out that the Venetian is still the biggest integrated resort in Macau. 'It can handle huge groups, seamlessly transfer luggage from Hong Kong International Airport to the guests' rooms via the ferry. It has endless shopping, food and entertainment options, huge and numerous meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions venues. If a group of 1,000 plus come to Macau, the Venetian is still the only standalone hotel where they can all stay. If they want to go to the House of Dancing Water, then they just walk across the strip to see the show.

'However, the target is mostly mainlanders but the airport has expanded, allowing for more long-haul flights, and I'm sure they will target more internationally flavoured music especially.'

The CotaiArena plays a pivotal role in staging international concerts and sports events, from professional basketball to concerts, such as the International Macau Music Festival, and big-name acts such as Usher and Kelly Clarkson.

The resumption of work on parcels five and six next to the Venetian will enable the group to compete for larger conventions and trade shows, bringing more entertainment, dining and shopping options to Cotai. The development, set to be completed in the fourth quarter of next year, will add to Cotai about 6,000 additional hotel rooms through the addition of Shangri-La, Sheraton and Traders hotels, and more than 1.2 million sqft of retail, entertainment and dining facilities, along with exhibition space and a multipurpose theatre.