Kit (and quite a few other hospitality consultants) and I took the jet ferry from Hong Kong to Macao, another “special administrative region” of China. As Hong Kong used to be a territory of the U.K., Macao was run by Portugal (for over 400 years), and it was also handed back over to China (in 1999; Hong Kong was handed back in 1997).
Macao has long boasted one special feature: gambling — so much so it was often known as “the Las Vegas of China,” but it really fell behind the decadence of Las Vegas. Until recently.
Until a few years ago only one man had licenses to run casinos on Macao, Stanley Ho. But licensing has recently opened up to others, and now the money is pouring in. The Sands was one of the first big Vegas operators to dash in, building a 229,000 square foot casino with a mere 51 ultra-luxury hotel rooms. It opened in early 2004, and is rumored to have broken even just seven months later. (More info in Wikipedia.)
No one is going to ignore that sort of payback. Sands quickly started building another hotel casino, the Venetian Macao. Based on the Las Vegas Venetian, this multi-billion-dollar hotel complex is an all-encompassing experience, with (Chinese-built) Venetian gondolas gliding through canals built to run inside the building.
It opened a few months ago. But even before it did, Macao passed Vegas in gambling revenues; both yanked in about US$6 billion last year.
Our group got a behind-the-scenes tour of the US$1.8 billion Venetian building, conducted by the chief of construction. Or, I should say, we got a tour of parts of the building, since we didn’t have a full week.
It’s the largest hotel in the world — 10.5 million square feet of space all under one roof. The only building larger is a tulip bulb growing facility in Holland, one of the staff said.
And soon both of these buildings will be outstripped: the Sands has already started on yet another hotel and casino complex across the street from the Venetian that will be larger!
One statistic that caught my ear: they used a full ton of gold leaf in the construction. You can see a bit of that in the photo, right, which shows a small portion of the lobby:
For more info and statistics on the Venetian, see this Wikipedia article.
Meanwhile, Stanley Ho, the man that used to have a monopoly on casinos in Macao? He’s not sitting on his hands either: he’s also putting up a huge new hotel (pictured next — the theme is a golden lotus flower, which you can see taking shape), and other operators such as MGM Grand, Hyatt, Four Seasons, Virgin Group, and more.
It will certainly be interesting to see if there’s enough gambling activity in the Far East to support it all. Scores of billions of dollars are being spent. (Another statistic: During the height of construction, the Venetian was going through $100 million per month — with Chinese, not union, labor….)
The scale of the Venetian was astounding. We toured a ballroom big enough to seat 6,000 people for dinner. We saw some of the 1.2 million square feet of convention space, 1.6 million square feet of retail facilities, 550,000 square feet of casino space (the largest single casino in the world), and the 15,000-seat arena for entertainment sporting events, pictured next — I particularly like the way they use bamboo for scaffolding. It’s quite common here:
After five hours of taking in all this luxury and unprecedented investment activity, we jumped back on the jet boat for the hour ride back to Hong Kong.
And at the end, I definitely understood how you spell Macao: m-o-n-e-y.
(And, in a more practical sense, yes: in English you’ll see both Macau and Macao. The O ending seems more common.)
We’ve now moved to another hotel, and the This is True readers joining us for our tour have started to arrive. I’ll be posting updates to the blog as I get Internet access.