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While some vacation destinations may be sluggish to approach new commercial developments, Macau is doing anything but slowing down. The Special Administration Region of China is investing considerably in its tourism product and infrastructure — and for good reason. Visitor arrivals in 2011 exceeded 28 million, increasing 12 percent from the previous year.
In addition, the average occupancy rate of Macau’s hotels and guesthouses rose to 83 percent for the first 10 months of 2011, an uptick of 4 percent over the previous year’s figures. Accommodations are continuously in demand and, while there are currently 23,222 rooms on offer, city planners estimate that Macau will boast more than 60,000 rooms by 2016.
But it’s not just tourists from mainland China who are contributing to the demand. The U.S. continues to be the number-one, long-haul source market for Macau, with American tourists spending an average of 3½ nights per visit.
“There are a number of reasons for this,” explained Alyson Marks, U.S. media manager for the Macau Government Tourist Office (MGTO). “For one, Macau’s close proximity to Hong Kong makes it an ideal complement to the destination, for both business and leisure travelers alike, and it features a number of U.S. hotel brands, making it more appealing for American travelers. Also, Macau is very unique from most regions in China, offering visitors a classic European feel, blending its Portuguese and Chinese heritage.”
Accessibility is also a key factor in Macau’s overall success. Presently, more than 15 different airlines service Macau. The destination is easily accessible from Hong Kong via ferry, some of which are available nearly 24 hours a day. As an added convenience, international travelers can bypass customs and immigration at Hong Kong International Airport and complete the process upon arrival in Macau.
Infrastructure ImprovementsTo help sustain the destination’s sizeable growth, construction is in progress on Macau’s Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, which will be the first major combined bridge and tunnel sea-crossing project in China. The six-lane, Y-shaped bridge is scheduled to be completed by 2016 and, once finished, travel time between Hong Kong and Macau will be cut in half. The bridge will also route vehicle traffic from Hong Kong through to Guangdong Province’s high-speed rail network which, when completed in 2020, will link the cities on the western side of the Pearl River to the eastern Pearl River Delta cities of Dongguan, Shenzhen and Huizhou. It will be the first time the cities in the eastern part of Guangdong are connected via rail to those in the west.
“This means that travelers around China will be able to travel to and from Macau more easily as they travel within Guangdong Province,” said Marks, “thus, making Macau the ideal stop over destination to round out a trip through China.”
Also under construction is a new ferry terminal in Taipa Island. Scheduled for completion in early 2014, the terminal will facilitate greater ferry frequency and easier travel to Macau from Hong Kong. The terminal will be able to handle 16,400-passenger ferries and three 1,200-passenger ships.
Hotel NewsSeveral new hotels are on the horizon, and Macau’s more established resorts are beefing up their offerings as well. Earlier this year, Steve Wynn announced plans to build a new integrated resort on Macau’s Cotai Strip to be completed by 2016. The 51-acre casino resort, which Wynn called the single most important project in his company’s history, will add 2,000 more hotel rooms to Macau’s inventory.
Wynn has a knack for finding hot spots, and the Cotai Strip is, without question, booming. Just last spring, the Sands Cotai Central resort complex unveiled its first phase of operations, including the 1,224-room Holiday Inn Macao Cotai Central — the world’s largest Holiday Inn to date. As to be expected, Macau’s version of a Holiday Inn is a far cry from its U.S. counterparts. Guests of the Holiday Inn Macao can choose from family-friendly Double-Double twin rooms — complete with floor-to-ceiling windows and 24-hour room service — to the two-bedroom Chairman Suite, equipped with a home theater and a dedicated massage room.
The 636-room Conrad Macao, Cotai Central also opened its doors to guests in spring 2011. The hotel specializes in bespoke wedding experiences and also offers comprehensive athletic and wellness facilities, including heated pools, a state-of-the-art Technogym fitness center and a Bodhi Spa.
With both properties, the Sands Cotai Central currently offers more than 20 food and beverage outlets and 92 retail shops — and guests can expect to see more in the near future. Next year, the resort complex will open the Sheraton Macao Hotel, which will be Starwood’s largest property to date with 4,000 rooms, 53,820 square feet of meeting space, two health clubs, a world-class spa, three outdoor swimming pools and six restaurants and lounges.
Galaxy Entertainment Group Limited, which opened three world-class hotels (including a Banyan Tree property) in April 2011, recently announced its plans for phase two of development. Phase two, scheduled for completion in mid-2015, will increase its retail space to more than 200 stores as well as add The Ritz-Carlton’s first ever all-suite hotel and the world’s largest JW Marriott property. This will bring Galaxy Macau’s grand total of rooms and suites to more than 3,600 rooms across five luxury hotels.
“Galaxy Macau’s amenities help create the leading integrated destination resort in Macau — the only one that is authentically Asian in inspiration and the only property of its kind with true resort features,” said Michael Mecca, president and chief operating officer of Galaxy Entertainment Group. “This includes the Grand Resort Deck with a white-sand beach, tropical gardens and the world’s largest sky-top wave pool.”
Galaxy also offers the only 3-D cinema complex in town, UA Galaxy Cinemas, and unveiled Macau’s first members-only nightclub, China Rouge, in March. After the completion of phase two of Galaxy Macau, Galaxy Entertainment Group will still have approximately 250 acres for future development.
“Macau prides itself as one of the world’s fastest growing destinations and welcomes the increasing number of tourist groups flocking to the destination each year,” said Marks “As Macau’s industry expands, the tourism product will continue to improve with every year, highlighting the destination’s presence as a world center of tourism and leisure.”
Guia FortressSituated at the top of Guia Hill, the Guia Fortress sits at the highest point in Macau. It was once used to defend Macau from naval attacks but has since been used as an observation point because of its high position on the island. The fort’s most prominent feature is the lighthouse, the oldest on the China coast. The lighthouse is situated near a chapel containing the image of the Virgin Mary and other cultural artifacts dating back to 1622. www.macautourism.gov.mo
Flora GardenAt the base of Guia Hill, the Flora Garden is a European-style garden that was originally the grounds of a Portuguese mansion, Flora Palace. Today the garden features a pedestrian path lined with palms and shrubs leading to an aviary, a small zoo and a refreshment patio. A stone pathway decked with waterfalls and belvederes leads to the top of Guia Hill. www.macautourism.gov.mo
The House of Dancing Water“The House of Dancing Water” is a stunning water-based show featuring acrobatics and dance, set to the story of a fisherman whose journey goes awry and sends him on an adventure to save an imprisoned princess. Created and directed by Franco Dragone, the show features more than 77 performers from around the world to give the audience a memorable experience. www.thehouseofdancingwater.com
Pour Tai UnFounded in the 19th century by Buddhist monks, Pour Tai Un is located on Taipa Island and is one of the most picturesque temples in Macau. Since its creation, devotees have expanded the monastery and temples with new pavilions featuring yellow-tiled roofs and a marble-columned terrace. The original temple still contains images of the three Precious Buddhas. The monks also run a vegetarian restaurant where visitors can sit and enjoy unique flavors right from the monks’ own vegetable garden.
Getaway for Two at the GalaxyGalaxy Hotel in Macau is offering a special package until Sept. 30. The offer includes a one-night stay for two in a Galaxy Room from $218 that includes buffet breakfasts at Festival, one-way ferry tickets from Macau to Hong Kong and complimentary use of the amenities of the Grand Resort Deck and the Galaxy Health Club. Guests also receive complimentary use of the Galaxy Express shuttle between Galaxy Macau and various destinations in Macau, including the Macau Ferry Terminal.www.galaxymacau.com
The Foodie Package at Hotel OkuraHotel Okura Macau is offering the Okura Summer Gourmet package, which includes a stay for two in a Deluxe Room, $50 in dining credits and two welcome drinks at The Crystal Piano or Nagomi Lobby Bar and Lounge. Valid through Sept. 30, the package also provides access to the fitness center and sauna as well as use of the Galaxy Shuttle.www.hotelokuramacau.com
New and Noteworthy
Movie-Going in MacauMacau has become an increasingly popular location for filming movies, but it also has excellent venues for watching them. The recently opened UA Galaxy Cinema is one of Asia’s premier, state-of-the-art facilities with nine 3-D screens. The Grand Theatre features four balcony boxes for an exclusive movie-going experience, while the Director’s Clubs features five-star dining and reclining sofa seats. www.uacinemas.com.hk
Nightlife for the SophisticateA new, members-only performance venue located at Galaxy Macau opened its doors in March. Designed by Alan Chan, China Rouge resembles the decadent Shanghai of the 1930s with lush, art deco-inspired furnishings and an extensive collection of artwork by celebrated Chinese artists. Members can also expect nightly entertainment, top-quality champagne and signature cocktails in addition to internationally inspired comfort food and contemporary cuisine. www.galaxymacau.com
Kid-Friendly MacauGalaxy Macau has introduced two new kid-friendly attractions this summer. For the gamers in the family, the Video Arcade at Galaxy Macau provides nonstop interactive fun. Kidz Island is an indoor club that features a padded playground, merry-go-rounds and a balloon pool as well as arts and crafts, d=ress-up and other activities. The clubhouse is best suited for children ages 2 to 12.www.galaxymacau.com
Sands Cotai Central in ProgressIn April of this year, Las Vegas Sands opened the first phase of the Sands Cotai Central in Macau. Guests can currently book its Holiday Inn and Conrad properties, which feature convention facilities, gaming space, world-class restaurants, live entertainment and high-end retail. Next year, the resort complex will open the Sheraton Macao Hotel, which will add 4,000 rooms to its inventory. www.sandscotaicentral.com
China National Tourist Officewww.cnto.org
Macau Tourism Officewww.macautourism.gov.mo
The Feasts of Hungry GhostsAccording to Chinese tradition, restless ancestors are said to roam the earth around the time of the full moon. The primary purpose of the Feasts of Hungry Ghosts festival is to appease ancestors and restless ghosts. Believers in the festival will make offerings, such as burning money and handing out food to appease the dead. Expect artistic performances, such as Chinese opera, as well. The festival activities usually take place in spacious areas such as parks and piazzas. (Aug. 30)
Fireworks Display ContestThe Macau International Fireworks Display Contest, which takes place annually in the fall, is the largest of its kind in the world. Firework experts from around the globe gather in Macau to show off their impressive pyromusical displays. The fireworks are set off over the Nam Van Lake. (Sept. 8, 15, 22, 29 and Oct. 1)
The 26th Macau International Music FestivalThe International Music Festival in Macau features world music of all genres. The performances take place at various venues throughout Macau, from parks and gardens to Macau’s UNESCO World Heritage sites and feature Western and Cantonese opera, jazz, rock and more. (Oct. 5 - Nov. 4)
Lusofonia FestivalCelebrating its 14th year, the Lusofonia Festival is one of the most important events for the Portuguese-speaking community of Macau. The festival takes place at the Taipa Houses Museum and features crafts, Portuguese cuisine and music, as well as traditional Portuguese games. (Oct. 19-21)