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Macau strives to attract non-gamblers
A month after Macau's first casino-less hotel opens, we visit the gambling mecca to find out if the plans by some to offer all-round entertainment are realistic
I’m inside the glitzy confines of Encore Wynn Macau on a weekend. The tinkle of slot machines is in the air, people are winning and losing fortunes around me, but gambling is far from my mind.
I have more pressing things to think about, like what oil blends to choose for a four-hands spa treatment, and just how elaborate my dinner at the hotel’s fancy Chinese restaurant will be.
The Encore, a sister boutique hotel of the Wynn resort-gaming complex next door, opened this year in April and surprised everyone by its restraint in the number of new gaming tables. “We only added 24 tables or something. This was about non-casino stuff. There’s enough gambling here,” Steve Wynn said in April.
A couple of months later the Mandarin Oriental Macau opened, going even further -- it dispensed with a casino altogether.
Do these openings herald a new direction for Macau's entertainment appeal? I was here to find out.
Expansive luxury for all the family
Encore’s gaming halls, which sit at the hotel’s bottom and top floors, are small and quiet compared to Macau’s other sprawling casinos, even on a weekend.
Instead, the new hotel aims to lure high-end vacationers mostly by their ludicrously expansive rooms, their lavish spa and various dining options.
There’s so much space in Encore’s 414 sea-facing suites and villas, you don’t know what to do with it. The smallest suite covers 102 square meters -- that’s enough to host a drunken party of 50 -- and their villas go up to a titanic 650 square meters, with the shameless extras of an en suite gym and a mini cinema. All of their rooms have mirror walls and lush red carpeting.
Their spa is equally profligate with individual “relaxation suites” for each guest, each of which comes with its own sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi and a team of four that kneel to you when serving your ginger tea (having never been kneeled to before I felt it was kind of cool. Excessive, but cool.
And while Encore's decor is opulent, it is also sincere. The lobby bar is decked by an antique 19th century French chandelier, and half of an original 18th century cherub figurine hangs prettily over the hotel café. The other half resides in a museum in California.
Casino-free infrastructure on the cards
Wynn is not alone in trying to wean itself off the casinos. If the latest developments on the Macau peninsular are anything to go by, the Asia gambling capital is well on its way to becoming a proper non-gaming holiday destination.
Mandarin Oriental Macau, the peninsula’s newest hotel with its opening just last month, is the first and only five-star hotel without a casino attached. Instead, the luxury hotel group is marketing itself as an “oasis” from the chain-smoking riffraff at the city’s gambling centers.
“The property offers a different perspective for those guests who want to relax in a calm environment, or for couples where one may enjoy gaming, but the other does not. And of course, families,” says a hotel spokeswoman. Taking the place of the casino is a massive mall called One Central.
“Macau has a wealth of activity to offer for those who want to enjoy a non-gaming environment, such as a UNESCO world heritage site, museums, historic buildings and areas,” she adds.
On the other side of town, City of Dreams, helmed by Macau casino mogul Stanley Ho's son Lawrence, will be rolling out the ambitious “The House of Dancing Water,” a US$250 million family-friendly water show set to be the world’s largest. The theater has a performance pool that holds more water than five Olympic-sized swimming pools and seats some 2,000 viewers.
Like "Zaia", the poorly-received circus show staged by the Venetian Macau, “The House of Dancing Water,” is produced by Cirque du Soleil talent, this time by former Cirque showman Franco Dragone.
However, “The House of Dancing Water” may just succeed where "Zaia" failed. The exotic and heavily packaged "Zaia" was widely panned for its lack of resonance with Chinese audiences, who are used to Beijing acrobatics. But “The House of Dancing Water” draws on more traditional Asian themes. “[The show] draws creative inspiration from Chinese culture, particularly on the seven-emotions principle derived from the classical Confucian beliefs,” says Dragone.
It will take much more local insight such as this if the attempt to harness the non-gambling dollar in Macau is to succeed.