Macau’s six new luxury hotels

Six new multibillion-dollar resorts are set to open in Macau, and all are looking to help revive the city’s flagging fortunes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 April, 2016, 10:39am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 August, 2016, 10:48am

If all goes to plan, by the end of 2017, Macau’s Cotai Strip will see an additional six integrated resorts offering approximately 9,180 new hotel rooms. While gambling revenue continues its year-on-year decline - VIP gaming revenue fell by 40 per cent last year following Beijing’s crackdown on government corruption - developers are now placing bets on the new resorts to help Macau recapture some of its allure.

“The hotels used to be more of a support system to the casino industry in Macau, but now, because of gaming revenue decline and fewer high-rollers visiting, the hotels and the rooms themselves have to be elevated in importance,” says Glenn McCartney, assistant professor of hospitality and gaming management at the University of Macau.

First to test the waters will be Wynn Palace, the second local offering from Wynn Resorts after the Wynn Macau, which opened in 2006. The US$4.1 billion floral-themed Wynn Palace, pegged to open August 22, will feature a 28-storey hotel with 1,700 rooms and suites in what chairman Steve Wynn describes as his company’s "single most important project" to date.

The property will be the first stop on Macau’s new light-rail system connecting the ferry landing to the Cotai Strip and will cover an area of 450,000 square metres. An aerial tram system, with air conditioned gondolas resembling smoke-breathing dragons, will carry customers across a 3.2 hectare performance lake from the light-rail station into the heart of the resort. The lake, situated at the front entrance, will be lined with restaurants, while flower gardens in various shapes and themes, such as hot-air balloons, will be spread throughout the property.

If that all sounds a little understated for Macau, then fear not, because also set to open later this year is the “seven-star” THE 13. The US$1 billion property promises a comprehensive “lifestyle experience” for the superrich. The hotel will have 200 multilevel suites, each with the elevator opening directly into it. Of the all-villa hotel’s 200 rooms, most will be Villa du Comte with a gross floor area of approximately 2,000 square feet while 31 are even larger, topping out at a monumental 30,000 square feet for the Villa de Stephen. New York architect Peter Marino, creator of flagship stores for the likes of Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, is designing the hotel with a blend of 17th-century French Renaissance and Baroque décor.

“We are reaching back to an earlier tradition of luxury that was truly exclusive, personalised and bespoke,” says Stephen Hung, joint chairman of THE 13.

Fine dining will come courtesy of L’Ambroisie, the three-Michelin-star French haute cuisine restaurant that is opening its first branch outside of Paris. The casino will be designed for 60 tables, with minimum bets projected to start at HK$10,000 a hand. In addition, THE 13 has put down a US$5 million deposit for the world’s largest fleet of custom Rolls-Royce Phantoms, 30 in all, to chauffeur guests, including two of the most expensive vehicles Rolls-Royce has ever built.

Even by Macau’s extravagant standards, this all sounds wildly over the top, but is it perhaps something that the city’s predominantly mainland Chinese visitors are looking for. Shaun Rein, director of China Market Research Group, has his doubts: “Bigger is no longer always better. I think five or 10 years ago, everybody wanted to go to these over-the-top hotels, but what we’re finding right now is that people are looking for a different experience and more boutique-like hotels that have themes.”

Enter The Parisian Macao. Set to open on September 13 2016, the US$2.7 billion French-themed resort will be Sands China’s follow-up to its Italian-themed The Venetian Macao that opened in 2007. This second Sands mega-resort will feature 2,950 guest rooms, a casino, meeting and conference spaces, a 300,000-sq ft retail mall resembling Paris’s Avenue des Champs-Élysées and featuring 130 boutiques and more than 10 restaurants, a rooftop terrace and pool resembling the gardens of Versailles, and a half-size replica of the Eiffel Tower with a viewing platform where guests can get a 360-degree view of Cotai.

With The Venetian continuing to be Macau’s most popular resort, drawing twice as many visitors as other properties, Sands China is confident that The Parisian will follow in its footsteps. “We are convinced it will be, hands down, one of the most popular integrated resorts in Cotai,” says Mike Lentz, senior vice-president of development at Sands Corporation. “We just know it. People will be compelled to visit, and when they do, they’ll truly feel like they’re in Paris.”

But not everyone is as confident that business models that were successful in the past will necessarily suit present trends and tastes in Macau. “You can’t just offer predictable formulas right now. You have to think clearly about what the Chinese consumer wants. I find that the casino operators don’t understand the Chinese very well,” Rein says.

“The new luxury in China is not buying Louis Vuitton anymore. It’s about posting on WeChat Moments where you’ve travelled to. That’s the new luxury status. When we interview people, they [say they] like to go to New Zealand, Botswana, South Africa, France or Japan and share their photos. It’s showing their friends that they’re living the good life. It’s not about throwing down a US$1 million bet in Macau anymore.”

However, amid the developers sticking to the traditional formulas, there are others focusing more on innovation. Melco Crown, which opened the US$3.2 billion integrated resort Studio City last October, is committed to giving Macau something unique. Its forthcoming City of Dreams Fifth Hotel Tower project is one such example.

“What we think will make this building special and make people want to come and stay at this hotel is that there is nothing else like it in all of Cotai,” says Viviana Muscettola, senior associate at Zaha Hadid Architects, which designed the new tower. “Most other hotels will just give you a certain standard of luxury like a chandelier, a water feature and luxury materials. In this case, I think the guests will really be able to experience the future of construction. It’s not going to be a fake Venice or a fake Paris. It’s going to be the future of our generation, the future of inhabited buildings.”

The property will occupy 150,000 square metres over 40 floors and will be encased by a striking exoskeleton steel structure – the first in the world built in tower form. Inside will be a 40-metre atrium looking up to the exterior façade that contains panoramic lifts to transport guests.

“We will have approximately 780 guest rooms, suites and sky villas, but it will also offer a lot of other facilities like gaming rooms, restaurants, a big spa and the sky pool at the top of the hotel,” Muscettola says. “It will be quite an important project in terms of actually changing how other developers in the area look at their new developments – changing the trend of simply re-creating Las Vegas in Macau and bringing it more towards doing interesting and innovative architecture.”

But going beyond the argument of traditional resort formats versus more innovative designs, will either concept be enough to generate more non-gaming revenue and revive Macau’s flagging fortunes?

“It’s a tough decision for casino operators,” Rein says. “Should they focus more on hotel, food and entertainment revenue, or do you try to capture back the gambling? That’s why it’s a no-win situation for many of these guys, because they’re going over the top spending all this money, but they can’t generate the revenue back because the reality is the market has just changed.”

Nevertheless, while it might be a tough time for casino operators, this new slew of mega-resorts means more rooms, more competition and a better chance for consumers to get a good deal on a luxury hotel stay.

“With increased competition and new rooms coming on the market, they may have to continue slashing room prices,” McCartney says. “[This means] 2016 really is the year of the consumer coming to Macau and getting a good package on a room."

AT A GLANCE

The six new resorts set to open before the end of 2017:

Wynn Palace

Opens: August 22 2016
Cost: US$4.1 billion
Rooms: 1,700

THE 13

Opens: Late 2016
Cost: US$1 billion
Rooms: 200 multi-level suites

The Parisian Macao

Opens: September 13 2016
Cost: US$2.7 billion
Rooms: 2,950

MGM Cotai

Opens: Second quarter of 2017
Cost: US$ 2.5 billion
Rooms: 1,600

City of Dreams Fifth Hotel Tower

Opens: First half of 2017
Cost: Unknown
Rooms: 780

Lisboa Palace

Opens: Fourth quarter of 2017
Cost: US$3.9 billion
Rooms: 2,000 across three hotels