The Venetian Macao’s entertainment department aims to offer something for everyone, from teeny boppers to fight fans
This month, the arena at The Venetian Macao will host performances by Taiwan’s “God of Pop Music” Harlem Yu,international R&B sensation Alicia Keys and Korea’s leading boy band Super Junior, as well as one of the most hotly anticipated boxing matches of the year between Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios.
Sands China is the unquestionable leader among Macau’s casino operators in bringing big-name entertainment spectacles to the city. According to The Venetian Macao Assistant Vice President of Entertainment Nuno Lopes, the company’s mission is to continue increasing the diversity of its offer, from the staple Chinese pop shows to extreme stunt performances.
Inside Asian Gaming spoke to Mr Lopes about Sands China’s mission to develop the entertainment market in Macau and the effect that’s having on the city’s visitor demographic.
IAG: You’ve come a long way from having to give away tickets to major international concerts at the arena to selling out two Rihanna shows. What’s changed?
Mr Lopes: Definitely the market has matured. It still has a long way to go, but there is a major change from those days to where we are now. And there is also a really big effort by all entities in Macau to promote Macau more as a leisure destination, whereas the old perception was that it was all about gaming.
Now you see huge markets like India, for instance, where visitors come as families. Even the mainland Chinese, now you see a lot of people also coming with their families. Ten years ago you would see more males travelling alone or with groups of friends but not actually bringing their families over because there wasn’t that much offer at the time. Now you also see them coming with their families, their wives, their kids, even their parents. So absolutely there is a difference.
Of course there are still people traveling alone, and there are still people focused on gaming, but it has changed. It has broadened.
What is the value of bringing family visitors? Isn’t it better for casino operators just to bring gamblers?
Not for Sands China. We believe that the concept of an integrated resort is to offer visitors all you can. You have to offer them a lot so they can have longer stays and enjoy their time here.
It’s very important that people see Macau as a tourist destination in which gaming is also included. And you see big shows coming and a lot of attractions that are happening here.
Do you have any formula for measuring the indirect benefits generated by your concerts and other entertainment offerings?
We do, although we don’t track people on property so we can’t associate people coming for the concerts with their other activities. But obviously we can evaluate what happens in our properties when we do have a concert versus when we do not. And if you look at our restaurants, our retail at the mall, hotel occupancy, of course you see significant increases in those.
What about gaming?
Gaming is a lot more difficult to measure. We also do have our statistics for that which we measure on a daily basis, but it’s very difficult to pinpoint the effect of the concerts because sometimes we just have strong weekends, sometimes we have strong weekdays, and sometimes it’s not so strong. So can you actually connect that with the shows? Of course there is always an increase on property activity overall when we have concerts. If you bring 7,000 people on property, obviously you’re going to have more F&B, more hotel stays, more shopping, more gaming—everything increases.
So even though it’s very expensive often to bring some of these shows to Macau and they may struggle to make money on a standalone basis, the indirect benefits can all add up together to make it profitable overall?
We don’t aim to make huge profits on the shows that we bring in since our primary objective is to provide more diversity in terms of entertainment and choices for our guests. Of course we do try to at least break even on the shows by themselves. But sometimes we feel that it’s more important to bring that show, even if you can’t break even on it by itself, because it’s more important to offer that variety to our guests and if necessary pay for it with the incremental revenue that we get.
Apart from improving the offer to guests, there’s also substantial marketing value, for both Sands China and for Macau.
Yes, for Macau, not only for our properties. I believe we have been leaders in terms of non-gaming offers and especially entertainment, and we want to keep it that way. We want to put Macau on the map as a destination that has a lot to offer. Building the Cotai Arena was a huge investment and we are the only one that have it.
Your last big concert featured Justin Bieber, who is clearly more attractive to a younger demographic. What was the thinking behind bringing him to Macau?
It’s the same as when we bring perhaps Super Junior or Girls’ Generation or any K-pop [Korean pop] festival or show. K-pop is also very focused on younger crowds, and it all goes to serve that same purpose of having a diverse offer. The younger people in Macau and Hong Kong also need something to attend.
Also, as you mentioned, the media coverage that we get out of these kinds of performances helps put Macau on the map. We’re also working with the government on that. The [Macau Government Tourist Office] is very committed to do a lot more to promote Macau as a destination, so it complements that purpose.
Which shows have really impressed you?
I’ve been learning a lot about these huge Asian artists. I’m very impressed by the amazing productions that we’ve had in the arena. They’re very careful about their productions, massive stages, lighting, and pyrotechnics. All these shows have been quite a surprise for me since I got here. For instance, last month we had a concert by Taiwanese artist Show Lo. He’s an amazing, very talented artist. I was very impressed.
On a weekly basis we’ve got great people in here performing. Don’t forget we’re doing shows nearly every weekend. I don’t know of any other arena in the world that has shows every weekend.
So is the logistics a real challenge?
Definitely. It’s really challenging.
What for you is a successful show? Obviously a lot of them are sold out, but beyond ticket sales, what makes a successful show for you?
It’s all about the interest and the buzz that it creates. It’s all about how many social media “likes” we get. Even people in other parts of the world that are not coming for the show, at least they know that the show came here, was a success because the people who do attend they comment, they Tweet, they Weibo, they Facebook, all of that. It’s about awareness.
There are a few shows that are really successful in terms of crowds attending, but I would say that nearly every show that we do is very important for us in terms of just showing people that they can come and visit because there’s definitely something to do here and something to see.
Getting back to the past, when there were some events that weren’t so well attended, what were some of the early mistakes that Sands China may have made, and how did you fix them?
We need to put it in perspective and look at what were those times. In a very immature market as it was and still is, it’s going to have to be trial and error. Some of them you’ll get right, and for some you won’t have any explanation why they didn’t work.
I would say the No. 1 concern would be picking the artists. You have a lot of big artists that work in Europe and work in the States, but they don’t work here because people are not familiar with them. You need to be very careful about who you pick to perform. I think we corrected that.
There are a few measures that you introduced to get people from Hong Kong and elsewhere to come to Macau for the shows, such as selling tickets in packages with ferry tickets and with hotel rooms. What else do you do to make it more attractive for people to come over?
Our commitment is pleasing visitors to Macau and our guests, making sure that we can offer them a comfortable way of coming here and enjoying themselves.
For the Manny Pacquiao boxing fight, for instance, which is early in the morning on a Sunday because it has to be broadcast on US television, we had to create not only additional entertainment throughout that weekend but also different kinds of packages that involved all our properties to make it more attractive for people to come over because it would mean having to stay for at least a couple of nights, whereas most people normally come for a show only for one night or even just for the day. That’s why we’re having the Alicia Keys concerts that same weekend and we’ve created a much larger amount of hotel packages.
We’re thinking, “Wait a minute, so they’re going to come for the weekend, the fight is in the morning, so what will they do the previous night?” So we’re creating a few parties in our Bellini Lounge, we’re having the Alicia Keys concert, making sure that we have enough offer for people to enjoy. They can also go to the Ice World as well as the Winter at Cotai Strip that weekend. The casino is open, of course, but we want to offer them diversity when they come here. There’s going to be a lot happening.
What is Sands China’s vision for entertainment in Macau? What will you add to the mix at your new properties?
It’s about making sure we have enough diversity for people that visit us. In the past we did a few western acts, some of them worked really well, some of them not so great. We then kind of put them on pause and started focusing mainly on Asian artists. Now we’ve got a mix of both and we have almost tripled the number of events we do in our properties a year. The Asian artists, especially the Canto pop and Mando pop artists, as well as the K-pop, are of course very important. But we’re definitely going to add more Western acts.
We’ve also added the fighting. There are the boxing matches. We started with UFC last year and we are going to continue with it next year, and will probably add Muay Thai. So, as I’ve been saying, it’s all about diversity. We presented the Nitro Circus, the Harlem Globetrotters. We’re also very committed to cultural events and also showcasing the culture of the region, especially mainland China. We’ve brought the Chinese National Symphony Orchestra, the National Ballet of China and the Shaolin Monks performed their amazing stunts here.
We’re also very committed to support and sponsor local community groups with the facilities and resources that we have. We have been sponsoring the theater to the Macau Orchestra. Last month, we had the Patua [a creole language previously widely spoken by the Macanese community of Macau] show, held for the first time in our theater, sponsored by us, as well as the Macau Literary Festival.
We want as diverse a mix as possible and we’re going to keep increasing the offer. We’re now continuing to build the theater on parcel six at Sands Cotai Central. The Parisian [Sands China’s sixth Macau resort, scheduled to open in late 2015] will also have a theater. So we are very committed to bringing to Macau first-class entertainment of all kinds.