DOUBLE DIGIT economic growth is an old story in this part of the world, but in March Macau's Statistic and Census Service released figures which may have caused global tourist operators to choke on their poolside cocktails. Macau's GDP increased 26.2 per cent in real terms in 2010 totalling, the Service said, MOP217.32 billion. The major factors were, it said: 'gross gaming revenue ... surging by 57.5 per cent [and] total visitor arrivals increasing by 14.8 per cent'. And by far the biggest spenders were visitors from Mainland China by a considerable margin. So there's little question that Macau is a hot destination, with gaming revenues far outdoing its Nevada-based competitor for the past half decade or so and a potential growth market hundreds of millions strong just across the border. But does it offer a stylish, high-end short break for stressed out Hongkongers? I recently visited on a holiday weekend where even the influx of tourists didn't spoil the laid-back vibe around Senado Square and the ruins of St Paul's or the restful courtyards of Zheng Guanying's house. The old town on Taipa wasn't coping so well - given the small streets, the area gets crowded quickly and is better left for a mid-week visit. Finishing the day with some wine at the French-styled La Bonne Heure on Travessa de Sao Domingos didn't hurt the relaxation quotient. The establishment's self-proclaimed ambition is to be Macau's coolest bar, which is overstating it a tad but it is a pleasant spot with low-ambient lighting in a brick arched room. The restaurant at the Clube Militar de Macau has been open to the public for years but the quality of the food is excellent. I had the Lagareiro-style roasted octopus (which was tender and spicy) as well as crispy codfish dumplings with black-eyed bean salad and can happily recommend both. The dining room's ambience is one of laid-back elegance. The newest big-ticket proposition in the territory though, is one which reflects not only the overriding mood of economic optimism but also where the growth in tourism is most likely to come from. Lui Che Woo's Galaxy Entertainment Group has invested HK$15 billion in a high-end venture scheduled to open May 15. The property will incorporate three hotels on a 550,000 square metres site along with gaming tables, restaurants and the usual mix of entertainment and resort-style facilities. But where the venture will differ, according to the group's marketing vice-president Jane Tsai, is by gearing toward visitors from Asia. 'Asia has come of age, the level of service has reached a world-class standard. The incumbents in this market are in two different segments, one a more Chinese focused and the other a more western focused. Our niche between that was to be pan-Asian,' she says. What that means is the resort will incorporate three accommodation options - one from the Singapore Stock Exchange-listed Banyan Tree group, another from the Japanese Okura hotels and the third from the Galaxy Group itself. The choice of restaurants reflects Asian tastes, as does the decor. 'In the past a lot of operators came to Macau with their western proposition recreating the Vegas brand,' Tsai says. Galaxy's senior vice-president non-gaming operations, Gillian Murphy, says this philosophy extends to the service standards in the restaurants. 'Asian customers want anticipatory and forward-thinking service, and they want it promptly.' While the standard 80/20 rule (80 per cent of turnover coming from gambling) will probably apply to the new Galaxy resort, Murphy was at pains to point out the intent of this particular operation was to broaden the appeal and create a mix of recreational activities. How that pans out and how guests choose to spend time at the resort remains to be seen, but there are at least two high-end entertainment options which have little to do with gaming. One is the private members' club China Rouge - a cabaret-style venue designed in a '30s deco style by Alan Chan, due to open this year. Murphy says it will have a glamorous, Shanghai heyday style with 'a bit of Moulin Rouge thrown in'. The other is the Banyan Tree spa, which she says will recreate the brand's resort destinations - offering a 'sanctuary and oasis'. (The Banyan Tree will be an all-suites hotel as well as housing 10 villas). The thinking being guests from the Mainland and Hong Kong will have quick access to the Banyan Tree's style of R&R without having to get on a plane. But regardless of whether resorts such as the new Galaxy will deliver on their promise to offer broader entertainment options, Macau will always have something Vegas just can't compete with - history and culture - which exists independently of the gaming tables.