Part 2: Creating a MICE and entertainment destination
Missed Part 1? Read it here
Thinking back 15 years to consider the environment of the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) industry, very few people in Macau would have known what the term actually meant, let alone what was required for the industry to succeed here. Fifteen years ago, the scale of events in Macau was relatively small, and there were limited venues for events to be held in. Even though the Macau International Trade and Investment Fair (MIF) had been in existence since 1996, there were only 200 exhibition booths at the 2004 fair – compare that to the 1,500 booths at MIF 2018 at The Venetian Macao.
The industry began rapidly changing when, in 2002, Chief Executive Edmund Ho advocated for a diversified economy, with MICE as one of the important industries that could potentially contribute to that goal.
Thinking back to that time, President of the Board of Directors of the Macau Convention and Exhibition Association (MCEA) Alan Ho cited Sands China’s MICE background as being an important part of its entry into Macao.
Mr. Sheldon G. Adelson, the chairman of Sands China’s parent company, Las Vegas Sands Corp., had already founded the successful computer trade show COMDEX, which was first held in 1979. Then in 1990, he built one of the world’s largest convention centres: the Sands Expo and Convention Centre in Las Vegas. The company’s MICE product has been a key part of the success of the integrated resort model it pioneered. Mr. Ho noted, “In 2002 [in Macau], there were only 278 convention and exhibition projects, around 10,000 sqm of event spaces, and about 300 employees in the industry.” That’s in stark contrast to today; since 2007, Sands China has attracted a total of over 10 million visitors and attendees to its MICE events, which have surpassed 8,000 to date.
In the years since the opening of Sands Macao, Sands China has been an integral player in building the MICE industry within the SAR. “We have a number of international conventions under our belt. We are organizing the International Comparative Literature Association (ICLA) convention this year, and we have organized several conventions for the Institute of Electronics and Engineers (IEEE) already,” Ho stated, illustrating the scope of the MICE industry in Macau today, and the vital role which Sands China plays within it. Indeed, global industry associations seem to agree that MICE in Macau is flourishing; the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) and the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI) have both voiced their admiration for Macau.
This a testament to how far the industry has come in merely 15 years. Irene Va Kuan Lau, Acting President of the Macao Trade and Investment Promotion Institute (IPIM) said that when Macau initially began to host MICE events, not only did the city not enjoy the world-class facilities that it now has, but staff were few, and lacking in training: “At that time, many of the industry workers were not experienced. Many lessons were learned before the industry developed to the stage it is [at] today.”
The heads of MCEA and IPIM both voiced their belief that while Macau may be a relatively small city, it has been able to turn its size to its advantage with regard to the MICE industry, as all of the industry facilities are close together as a result.
In Cotai, Sands China has Cotai Expo at The Venetian Macao, and Sands Cotai Central and The Parisian Macao both have convention and exhibition venues. All three integrated resorts also offer dining and hospitality facilities, interconnected retail malls, and entertainment venues – the 15,000-seat Cotai Arena, the 1,800-seat Venetian Theatre, the 1,700-seat Sands Cotai Theatre, and the 1,200-seat Parisian Theatre.
To have the variety of venues under the one roof is a significant bonus. IPIM’s Lau drew attention to this proximity: “A 25,000-attendee convention we organized last year coincided with a strong typhoon. We were worried, but we had contingencies. We contacted all relevant hotels and venues beforehand.” Because, according to Lau, it is difficult to cancel, relocate, or postpone a convention of such a scale at the last minute, her team decided that “the show must go on.” Lau recalled that “Sands China prepared in advance their staffing, food and beverage (F&B), and other resources to cope with any possible situation.” As a result of this organizational prowess, honed by years of practice, “the convention was held smoothly, with zero complaints from the attendees.”
But Sands China does not rest on its laurels, whether in regards to MICE or in others areas, like entertainment. It is constantly looking at how it can improve the experience it offers. When its initial property Sands Macao opened, arranging on-site entertainment was very challenging. Manuela Palmer, an entertainment manager for the company, recalled that “even dancers were not easy to find in Macau…not to mention Las Vegas style ones.” In the intervening years, Sands China has introduced several new entertainment types, from intimate bar performances to large arena concerts. “At Sands Macao, we have a bar called Xanadu on the main gaming level. There’s a dedicated stage on which shows are performed alongside the F&B business,” Ms. Palmer noted.
The most popular entertainment venue in Sands China’s portfolio is The Venetian Macao’s Cotai Arena, which hosts everything from concerts and sporting events to awards shows and mega-scale conventions. It is arguably the top entertainment destination in southern China, and hosts performances by some of the world’s and the region’s biggest superstar entertainers, many of whom choose the Cotai Arena as the starting point of their Asian tours. Just a small sampling of the Cotai Arena’s many big-name acts include the Rolling Stones, Katy Perry, Celine Dion, Maroon 5, Jay Chou, Sammi Cheng, Big Bang, and many others.
The luxurious theatres at The Venetian, The Parisian and Sands Cotai Central have each held a wide variety of cultural events as well, including, among many others, The Philadelphia Orchestra, the St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake, The Sound of Music, and the legendary Broadway musical CATS.
In all, Sands China’s entertainment events have attracted a total audience of over 4.3 million since 2007, with more than 560 live entertainment events presented to date.
From relatively small MICE and entertainment industries in Macau, to now thriving ones, the last 15 years at Sands China has seen an incredible pace of development, both in terms of the facilities it offers, as well as the skill with which its team members deliver outstanding experiences to its customers – helping make Macau the MICE and entertainment powerhouse it is today.
Don’t miss Part 3 in our series in tomorrow’s paper