We arrive in Macau in time for the annual September fireworks extravaganza, showcasing pyrotechnics maestros from around the world. Sitting outdoors at the 200-pax Terrace Restaurant beneath the iconic 1,100-foot Macau Tower, everyone is in awe of the multicultural cuisine. The bounty of exotic fish, meats and vegetables spiced with flavors from Portugal’s globe-girdling reach to Africa, Goa and Brazil speaks volumes about the lure of Macau.
Basically, you never know what amazing surprise awaits around the next corner. The Chinese “special administrative region” is booming with swank meeting-friendly hotels, glittering casinos, elaborate entertainment and fine dining restaurants due to the skyrocketing economy.
This charming former Portuguese protectorate 37 miles southwest of Hong Kong has become the planet’s top-grossing gaming town, bringing in 4-6 times Vegas’ gambling revenues.
The Vegas model is clearest on the Cotai, a reclaimed isthmus between two Macanese islands, Coloane and Taipa. It’s said that enough sand was pumped in to build another Great Pyramid. Already dotted with 10 hotels and six casinos, many with names North American planners know well, more are enroute.
While dipping Portuguese egg tarts in spicy mustard, the dazzling showers of fireworks begin bursting high above to soaring symphonic sounds, mirrored over the water of Pearl River. Spoons are dropped. That happens a lot here.
The 3,000-suite Venetian Macau started it all in 2007 and remains the world’s largest casino and sixth-largest building. Twice the size of its Nevada counterpart, the Venetian is a planner’s dream, particularly if the planner dreams big.
Guests are blown away by careful replicas of Venice landmarks, including three 500-foot canals studded with gleaming black gondolas and singing gondoliers intertwined among the public spaces. And the gold, wow. Three million gold leaves were used to create the interior decor.
The suites are huge, starting at a minimum of 830 sf with a canopied bed, marble bath, Nespresso machine, and sunken living room great for working and relaxing in front of the incredible nightly views.
For meetings, the 15,000-seat CotaiArena is a convenient stadium for group events, like having Madison Square Garden attached to your hotel. Beyonce and Lady Gaga performed here, and Kobe Bryant hosted a basketball clinic for kids. Six exhibition halls measure almost 70,000 sf, and 108 meeting rooms bring total MICE space to over 30 acres.
While touring we run into meeting planner Veronica Zamora from BioHorizons, who is setting up for an international Asia-Pacific Symposium.
“Why the Venetian?” I ask.
“Capacity and efficiency,” says Zamora. “We have over 500 clinicians attending. From check-in to final bill, they made everything really easy, from specific dietary needs to currency conversion. The service was great and catering awesome. And this is the first time I’ve worked on such a big event where there were no errors on the bill. None!”CITY OF DREAMS
Across the Cotai, City of Dreams is a casino and entertainment center that has dubbed itself: “The world’s coolest collection of hotels.” The 300-room Hard Rock Macau is beloved by hipsters from Beijing and Hong Kong. The gorgeous 300-room Crown Towers dazzles Asian VIPs, and meeting planners with large groups are drawn to the 791-room Grand Hyatt Macau.
The Grand Hyatt is actually two hotels. The 424-room wave-shaped Grand Tower, where we’re staying, stands at a jaunty angle to the 367-room Grand Club Tower. Both look onto the Pearl River Delta or the Cotai. They share meeting space and a dramatic light-filled, 72 foot-high travertine lobby featuring a fire engine red Steinway grand piano. Our group spends a fair amount of time in the busy patisserie-cafe that serves those ridiculously yummy Portuguese egg tarts.
The second-floor MICE level features an American blue-chip corporate vibe with lean, clean design daubed in beiges and ivory. We arrive for a special event the hotel is hosting to unveil its 2012 theme called “The Opulence,” in their 23,000-sf Grand Ballroom. There is nothing corporate about the glittering, bead-and-velvet homage to the Belle Epoque era, replete with tuxedo-clad butlers and burgundy chandeliers.
“We’re always adding glamour and creative possibility to events,” says GM Paul Kwok.
Next door, along with eight natural-lit meeting salons, the 470-pax Salão do Teatro has an open-show kitchen for up to 20 chefs at once, with video feeds capturing the action for two enormous projection screens. For our visit, Hyatt chefs are working their magic with a spectacular selection of fruit salad with local pawpaw, fresh dumplings, dim sum and apple tart. Our favorite: Chinese pancakes with mushroom, yellow leek and duck. And a third-floor pool deck offers Macau’s largest outdoor venue, where planners host 500-pax barbeques.
We definitely fell for the Hard Rock Casino here, featuring some of the property’s 71,000 pieces of music memorabilia. While many of us in the group are typically not avid gamblers, we spent some time here dropping a little dough because of the spectacular ambience and vibe.
City of Dreams’ piece de resistance is the water-based acrobatic show, “The House of Dancing Water.”
“No other show on earth had to have a theater created just for it,” boasts Kwok. Created by Cirque du Soleil creative alum, Franco Dragone, he loosely based the storyline on the Portuguese discovery of China. The 2,000-seat theater features an amazing 3.7-million gallon tank and stage. Five Olympic-size pools of water rise and disappear magically as dancers become swimmers and divers become aerialists. Front rows receive raincoats upon entering. A grand finale includes seven motorcyclists flying 49 feet in the air.
“It’s the most extravagant live show in Asia,” says Kwok.