Macau, Mon Amour: 3 Reasons It’s a Planner Paradise
Macau – or spelled the modern way ‘Macao’ – just the sound of it conjures up images of James Bond in Skyfall, strutting broodingly past smoky baccarat tables in casinos done up with golden dragons and glowing red lanterns. Sure, there’s still a bit of that (even if no cigarette smoke), but these days there’s much more to Macau than just blackjack and roulette. Unlike the stereotypical opium-den style décor featured in the Bond film, modern day Macau is bright, colorful, lavish and luxurious, with new venues opening in rapid succession, despite the recent cooling of gaming revenues.
My interest in the place peaked recently when the team at the Sheraton Macao Hotel, Cotai Central made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: come see what Macau’s got for international planners. Truth be told, I knew embarrassingly little about Macau so a visit indeed seemed warranted, then became essential upon learning that Macau was home to more than 100 hotels and millions of square feet of event space, with more than 214,000 of them at the Sheraton. This, I had to see. Take me to planner paradise, please.
Fast forward a few days, add a bump-free, non-stop EVA Air flight from JFK to Taipei, topped with a short hop to Macau, and voila! Welcome to the place known as the ‘Vegas of the East,’ albeit one with water, beaches, hiking trails, UNESCO World Heritage sites, Portuguese-influenced culture and ancient Buddhist temples. Add to that its proximity to Hong Kong, just 40-minutes east on the Cotai Water Jet ferry, and Macau’s got an impressive list of upsides. Its also got plenty to offer planners looking to accommodate clients on both sides of the Pacific – and its one of several reasons why I’m putting Macau high on my location list for 2015 and beyond. Here’s why you should too:
1) Rooms and luxury to spare.
Need rooms? Not a problem. Macau is currently home to four of the largest hotels in the world – including The Venetian and The Galaxy – as well as the world’s largest Sheraton, Conrad, and Holiday Inn. All told, you’ll have 30,000 rooms to choose from, two-thirds of which are in 5-star properties. For planners, that means plenty of high-end rooms at a range of prices, which is always welcome news for clients, attendees and vendors. And, according to HotelChatter.com, by the time 2018 rolls around, Macau will have added roughly 45,000 more rooms to the mix, so safe to say that venue options will continue to expand.
2) The gang’s all here – and so are your points.
For loyalty-points-conscious planners (and let’s be honest, who isn’t), all the major hotel players have recently arrived in Macau, so you can take advantage of the same pile-on of perks, planner tools and support you’d expect stateside. But what’s really compelling is all that newness. As the properties have been custom-built from the ground up, most within the last three-to-five years, Macau’s facilities are as state-of-the-art as it gets. Their meeting spaces are beyond flexible too – able to be sliced, diced and configured in just about every way imaginable. Put it this way: if you can’t find space to fit your needs in this town, it probably doesn’t exist. That said, among the big brands on hand: Conrad, Four Seasons, Grand Hyatt, Hard Rock, Holiday Inn, Mandarin Oriental, MGM, JW Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Sands, Sheraton, Venetian and Wynn – and by the end of 2015, St. Regis.
3) There’s lots to see, do – and eat.
More than simply a gambling mecca, Macau is a truly unique cultural and culinary destination, an East-meets-West hybrid that is the result of the area’s unusual history – the co-mingling of the indigenous Chinese with 500 years of Portuguese colonial rule and immigration. On an informal stroll through the streets today, you’ll see aspects of the blended “Macanese” culture played out in the Spanish Colonial-style squares, next door to towering apartment blocks and bustling, open-air Asian markets, adjacent to incense-wafting temples, and parks filled with retirees quietly playing mah jong and practicing tai chi. You’ll taste the blended style of Macanese cuisine – think thick soups, variations on paella, fish and pork in curry and chili-based sauces – which evolved as 16th and 17th century Portuguese immigrants attempted to recreate their favorite dishes using traditional Chinese and South Asian spices. For more organized, team-building activities, Macau answers the call with both indoor and outdoor options, among them:
- Very big shows, like Katy Perry, The Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi and Lady Gaga, tend to make stops in Macau so, depending on the client, you’d be wise to track who is in town. And then there’s one of Macau’s greatest, on-going spectacles, “House of Dancing Water, ” an over-the-top, impossible-to-describe, multi-million-dollar, must-see water show involving 3.7 million gallons of water, an 80-person cast, high-tech visual effects, dazzling sets that float on the water, in the air and fly up to the rafters. And, of course, a love story.
- Sky-drumming at the Macau Tower, out on the ledge of the building and clipped into the harness, this is a seriously fun team-building activity where you make a lot of (rhythmic) noise and blow off a little steam. Less adventurous types can participate indoors on the Observation Deck, pounding out call-and-response rhythms to their braver colleagues outdoors on the ledge.
- Hiking and Biking Trails in Coloane, guided or self-guided, featuring gentle inclines and picturesque views of quiet beaches and calm coves overlooking the South China Sea.
- Culinary Workshops, where guests are divided into teams, visit the famous Red Market to select ingredients, and work with a local chef to create an authentic Macanese meal.
- Dragon Boat Racing, an introduction to the sport, with team challenges and races on Macau’s Sai Wan Lake
- Walking Tours, guided or self-guided, through the historical center of Macau, to view the Ruins of St. Paul Church (an Unesco World Heritage site), Camoes Garden, Protestant Chapel, Mount Fortress, Lou Kau Mansion, St. Domingos Church, Santa Casa da Misrecordia, Sam Kai Vui Kun Temple, Leal Senado, Rua da Felicidade and more.
Last but not least, there is shopping, and lots of it! In fact, virtually every hotel features a multi-level, luxury shopping mall of epic proportions, so when event guests need to unwind with a bit of retail therapy, the doctor is in!
In short, even without James Bond strolling through the scenery, Macau is the full package.