Rolling Stones concert pushes Macau into the big league for entertainment
Sight are set on becoming Asia's go-to venue for the world's biggest stars
Macau left Las Vegas in its wake long ago to become the world's most cash-rich gaming destination and as it continues to coin it at the tables, the city has its sights set on becoming Asia's go-to venue for the world's biggest entertainment stars.
But does the former Portuguese enclave's spectacular rise from sleepy backwater to global gaming powerhouse pose a threat to Hong Kong's ability to attract the biggest names?
One of the men plotting Macau's bid for a seat at the top table of international entertainment says the sell-out concert by ageing rockers The Rolling Stones was a game-changer.
Olaf Gueldner, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer of Sands China which runs the Venetian Macau, said: "The Rolling Stones playing here - arguably one of the most famous groups - creates a huge amount of interest and vibe around it beyond the fact that it was just a concert … It was the tipping point for many to ask 'what's going on in Macau?'.
"It's a bit like when the Formula One went to Singapore, it catapults you to a different level. If the Stones played there, people think there must be more there than we thought."
In recent years, the Macau government has mapped out extensive plans to diversify its gambling-dependent economy, but it has had mixed results.
Gueldner said the casino had a role to play in re-establishing Macau as a centre of entertainment in Asia and the task had to start with the artists.
"No one would tour Europe without doing London and Paris," he said.
"So if you tour Asia, we want to get to the point where Macau is just logical so you do Shanghai, Tokyo, Macau, Sydney, maybe Singapore. Two years ago, I would have said Tokyo, Shanghai, then I'm not sure. Hong Kong maybe."
The Stones' March 9 gig took six months to negotiate but it was time well-spent with a snowball effect as other big global acts now looked to Macau, Gueldner said.
"In our case, it's becoming easier which is a nice side effect of the Stones," he said. "The whole industry is small so word gets around."
But the rising profile of Macau was not about stealing from Hong Kong, he said. "It's less around taking things away from Hong Kong but saying here's Macau, it's a great place," he said. "I don't see that I need to beat someone else."
Special one-off events like the Chinese Music Awards later this month and sports like boxing and martial arts were also part of their entertainment strategy.
In 2012, 28,076 people from Hong Kong went to concerts at the Venetian. Last year, this almost doubled to 55,416.
Across the road at Melco's City of Dreams casino complex, which opened in 2009, it's a similar feeling of change.
"Macau is transforming into an all-round leisure and entertainment destination hot spot," said Sunny Yu, vice president, entertainment and project for Melco Crown Entertainment.
One of its biggest nongambling drawcards is the HK$2 billion House of Dancing Water show, with 2.5 million people seeing the water-based acrobatic extravaganza since 2010.
Melco also has a 300,000 sq ft club which celebrated its third anniversary last night with a performance by US rapper Ludacris.
But Macau has some way to go before it is established as an entertainment hub like Hong Kong because megastars were drawn to Macau simply for one reason, said Cliff Wallace, former head of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from 1995 to 2012.
"It is driven by the economics and the casinos can subsidise the big names while Hong Kong must depend on sponsorship for the superstars," Wallace said.
"The artists and performers are going where they can reap the most financial benefit and Macau has every opportunity, considering the revenues being realised there, to pay the big names the big dollars."
The Performing Industry Association, which represents Hong Kong concert organisers, last week called on the government to build a 35,000-seater indoor venue in the city centre or risk big global acts skipping Hong Kong as a touring destination. But Wallace said this was not the ideal solution.
"Hong Kong is a city that any touring artist wants to include. What would help is not a 35,000-seat stadium, rather a legitimate 15,000 to 18,000-seat international standard arena in a central location," he said.
"You build a church to fill nearly every Sunday, not just at Easter," he said.
2004: Whitney Houston, Linkin Park, David Bowie
2009: Coldplay, Rod Stewart
2010: Andrea Bocelli, Tom Jones, Gorillaz, The Flaming Lips, Fatboy Slim, Muse
2011: Kylie Minogue, Eagles, Michael Buble, Simply Red, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Eric Clapton, Vivian Girls
2012: Jesus and Mary Chain, Dinosaur Jr, Lady Gaga, Beach Boys, Elton John, Sting, Jennifer Lopez, Maroon 5, The Stone Roses, Duran Duran
2013: TVXQ, Blur, David Guetta, G-Dragon, Suede, The Killers, Air Supply, Sigur Ros, Japandroids, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Super Junior, T-ara, Franz Ferdinand, Pharrell
2014: Bruno Mars, Avril Lavigne, James Blunt, De La Soul
2007: Beyonce, Black Eyed Peas
2008: Celine Dion
2009: Lady Gaga
2012: Cirque du Soleil, Kelis
2013: Justin Bieber, Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Beach Boys, The Clash with Manny Pacquiao, The Voice of China, Rainie Yang, Show Lo (aka Xiao Zhu), China’s top boxer Zou Shiming, Fatboy Slim, Huading Awards (Chinese film awards)
2014: The Rolling Stones, Eason Chan, G.E.M. , Girls’ Generation, Justin Lo