Reinvestment is our priority: Sands execs

From left: Phil Mickelson, Ron Reese, Wilfred Wong, Li Haotong

Sands China is looking at ways it can continue to help build Macau as a World Center for Leisure and Tourism, and its parent company, Las Vegas Sands, would look at “any opportunity” to further participate here, especially in the Greater Bay Area and Hengqin island.

This is according to Las Vegas Sands spokesperson Ron Reese, as well as Sands China President Wilfred Wong, who gave exclusive interviews this week to Macau Daily Times.

Reese, who was in Macau to oversee Phil Mickelson’s events at the Macau Golf Club and Caesars Golf Club, said the company was excited by the opportunities it saw in the region.

“This is an exciting time for the company,” he said. “If you look back at the last year, we’ve had the announcement of the extension in Singapore, a $2 billion-plus investment, and the redevelopment of The Londoner [also a $2 billion-plus investment], all of which speaks to our commitment to developing non-gaming amenities in these markets.”

Reese noted that a lot of attention was focused on Japan at the moment. However, he steered the conversation back to Macau. “We have been active in Japan for more than a decade, and in Korea, we continue to have conversations,” he said. “But you know, from our perspective, we have the great advantage of operating in two of the greatest markets in the world, Macau and Singapore. For us, being able to reinvest in these markets is a great opportunity.”

The most important thing for the company was to ensure that it was maximising its various opportunities, Reese said. “We are continuing to work with the government to diversify Macau’s economy,” he said. “No one has put as many resources as we have toward developing non-gaming amenities and if there are chances to invest further in non-gaming development we would look seriously at that.”

The most obvious opportunity would be across the border, in Hengqin, of course, and Reese acknowledged that it was something the company was open to explore. “Conversations about Hengqin have been ongoing since the mid 2000s,” he said. “We are committed to Macau and China for the long term, and if there is an opportunity to invest [in Hengqin] the chairman and senior management would definitely take a look at that.”

LVS preferred to think about the long term, Reese said. “Over the years, it hasn’t always been easy. But we have demonstrated our commitment to Macau. We have kept our promises and become part of the fabric of Macau. That is important to us. We spend a lot of time talking about how dedicated we are to Macau.”

Not only Macau, but its hinterland, too. “We also hear a lot about the Greater Bay Area, and how it’s all about creating better connectivity among the cities,” Reese said. “However we can help in that process, we stand ready to assist, support or participate in any way.”

The clock was clearly ticking toward concession renewal, and, while not commenting directly on it, Reese acknowledged it. “At about the time the Londoner is done, we will be looking for that next opportunity anyone wants to put in front of us,” he said.

Specifically, Reese said there seemed to be clear opportunities in hospitality training and management in the Greater Bay Area. “That is one way we could contribute,” he said. “We have demonstrated that no ‘ask’ is too big or too small for us. We are happy to have conversations with anyone about how we can continue to reinvest. Through our existing work with the Sands Academy in Macau, and through our work with UNLV, which is a global leader in hospitality management,  we are looking at ways to develop this further here.”

There are multiple ways the company could engage beyond Macau, just as it does within Macau, Reese noted, citing the example of procurement and corporate social responsibility initiatives. “Our SME procurement program in Macau is arguably the best,” Reese said. “Whether it’s through that, or the Sands Cares Ambassadors, volunteering in the community, our commitment here has been important for us. So there are many ways we can participate in opportunities presented to us.”

Sands China President Wilfred Wong reiterated Reese’s comments, adding that the company’s activities, such as the Mickelson events and many others, were all part of efforts to help Macau reach its goal of becoming a World Center for Leisure and Tourism.

“We are doing what we can to raise not only the profile of Macau, but also of the Greater Bay Area,” Wong said. “We are raising our standards, through enhanced training of our own staff, in a way that will likely help the entire GBA by bringing the region to the forefront of China’s hospitality industry.”

Sands was already looking at GBA opportunities, Wong said. “If the government agrees to give us the new concession, we would like to expand. Of course, Macau is short of land and so Hengqin is obviously a very good neighbourhood that we can go into. But all this will depend on what happens to the concession. If we get it, we will go “all-in” on the next stage of development.”

What might that “all-in” look like, if Hengqin welcomed Sands? Investment in hotel rooms is the most obvious need, Wong said. “We are running at 96% occupancy, and so we need more space, especially if we want to expand our MICE business. Perhaps we can do more of that over there – particularly activities that would be easier for Chinese to attend. We can even consider having two separate venues for the same event.” Anthony Lawrance, MDT/Macau Inc.

Note: A longer version of these interviews will be published in the December issue of Macau, Inc., a special issue designed to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Macau Special Administrative Region.

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