Macao Studio City may be a little late to the Cotai party, but its developers promise a smooth and fun-filled experience
It’s no secret that the global credit crisis has had a negative impact on funding for Macao Studio City and pushed back the projected opening date of phase one of the project to 2011.
Richard Hamilton, Vice President, Development for Taubman Asia, which has a 25% stake in the retail portion of Macao Studio City, isn’t downhearted.
“When I started on this project we were talking about 2009. Now we’re talking about 2011,” he says bluntly.
“We’ve had to restructure our ownership and debt/equity ratios to respond to the world we live in. It’s a different world and we can’t put our head in the sand about that. In some regards it’s frustrating, but in many other ways it’s an opportunity,” he suggests.
Headlines about the credit crunch and suspension or slow down of construction work on other gaming projects in Macau don’t alter the fact that the territory is in effect the biggest gaming laboratory the world has ever seen.
Never before in the history of the modern gambling and entertainment industry, has so much hardware and software, including human talent, been gathered together in one market at such speed. To add to the excitement, there’s also a certain amount of trial and error.
Asia’s Las Vegas?
Certain aspects of human behaviour are common across cultures—crucially a love of gambling and shopping. But few experienced observers of the local gaming scene believed that the Las Vegas resort model could simply be shipped across the world and swallowed whole by an Asian audience. The US operators in Macau have already found for example that their customers are less interested in fancy nightclubs and restaurants than they are in favourite lucky baccarat tables or favourable credit terms in the VIP rooms.
Macao Studio City’s access to Chinese star entertainers through one of its investors, eSun Holdings, could be precisely the kind of localisation of content needed to offer a unique competitive advantage to the resort in an increasingly crowded market.
Taubman Asia’s Mr Hamilton gave Inside Asian Gaming a privileged glimpse into the decision-making process for the Macao Studio City project, and how the components will work to anchor each other, and how ‘integration’ means knitting in to every aspect of the local market—including the local transport system.
“We’re delighted that the infrastructure is evolving. We think our timing in 2011 will work very well for us with the light rail. In order to develop the critical mass of visitors on the Cotai Strip, we want to see all the projects succeed,” he says.
Mr Hamilton suggests that the delayed opening may help Macao Studio City in particular by giving time for the Macau tourism market to develop and mature and move up the value chain.
“If you look at food and beverage as an example, it’s clear that in Macau the taste of visitors is very much skewed to an Asian palate. Many people are also very happy with simple Asian meals such as noodles,” he points out.
“As time evolves, we’ll look to upscale that and take it in a more fine dining direction.”
Taubman, a company with more than half a century’s experience in developing and operating shopping malls in the United States is naturally focused on the retail business. Mr Hamilton stresses though that his company is interested in every aspect of the site, as this is the only way to deliver a successful resort to the customers and investors.
“We sweat every detail. We are really passionate about our product,” says Mr Hamilton.
“Integration starts before we even build the property,” he adds.
“We are next to the Lotus Bridge immigration point, which provides opportunities for 18,000 people per day to come from Mainland China. It’s the only land crossing directly onto the Cotai Strip.”
Whether arriving from the land border or via the ferry terminals and airport, tourist buses and coaches will be able to pull up in airconditioned comfort in the property’s underground car park.
The site, trademarked ‘Where Cotai Begins’ will be served by the light rail system planned by the Macau government. The transport link was mentioned during the annual policy address of Macau’s Chief Executive Edmund Ho recently as one of several important infrastructure schemes to be funded in a 10.2 billion patacas (US$1.28 billion) economic stimulus package. At last estimate, the rail scheme is likely to swallow nearly half of that budget, and no construction date has yet been announced. Mr Hamilton is confident though that the project will go ahead.
“The light rail system will be capable of 16,000 people movements per hour,” he explains.
“Next door to our site is one of the 23 light rail stations that will directly link the Cotai Strip with the airport, the new ferry terminals, and the Macau peninsula.”