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by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | September 23, 2012

Sheraton MacaoSheraton's plan to dominate the global hotel industry — or at least China — made a great leap forward this week with the official opening of the first phase of the 3,896-room Sheraton Macao Hotel, Cotai Central. Not only will it be the world's largest Sheraton in terms of sheer room numbers when complete, it will be the largest property for parent company Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, whose global portfolio currently stands at 1,112. This glitzy Macao newcomer, which features 160,000 square feet of meeting space, has set the bar impressively high for competitors who are certain to line up for a stake in this still young gaming destination, known as the Las Vegas of Asia.
 
Lobby of the new Sheraton MacaoThe opening of the Sheraton Macao's 1,829-room Sky Tower, which will be followed in early 2014 with the debut of the 2,067-room Earth Tower, coincides with the 75th anniversary of the Sheraton brand and widens Starwood's lead in Asia Pacific, where the company is on pace to have 320 hotels operating by 2014. It has been a long run for Sheraton in China, beginning with the debut of the Sheraton Hong Kong in 1974, followed by the Sheraton Beijing 11 years later. It is a development commitment that has paid off. "The best way to create demand and interest is to have brands that people connect with, and that is what we have achieved with Sheraton," said Frits van Paasschen at the official opening ceremony, attended by more than 500 media reps from around the world. "There is already tremendous primary demand to be met in here in Macao."
 
The Sheraton joins two other Sands Cotai Central hotels, the Conrad and the Holiday Inn, offering a combined 6,000 rooms and 1.2 million square feet of retail, dining, entertainment and meeting space, as well as 300,000 square feet of gaming. According to developer Sheldon Adelson, chairman, Las Vegas Sands and Sands China Ltd., who in 2005 spearheaded the development of Macao from a muddy swampland, across from glittering Hong Kong, into a major tourism destination, Macao's emphasis is focused squarely on attracting group business. "This is a MICE-based  [as in Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Expositions] marketing strategy, and we joined with Starwood because they are a leader in that market," said Adelson at the Sheraton opening ceremony. "We have more meeting rooms here in Macao than anywhere else, and we are just getting started." Sheraton officials say that in this first operating year, they are targeting 30 percent of revenue to come from the group market, primarily regionally driven from mainland China, Japan and India.
 
And more projects already are in the pipeline, which will strengthen and expand the Sands Chinese empire, said Adelson, who added that groundbreaking for the 3,300-room The Parisian, built to a 50 percent scale of the Eiffel Tower, is expected to begin by year's end, to be followed by a 460-room St. Regis. "I haven't even had a moment to tell Starwood, but we got the OK on the project today," Adelson told van Paasschen, who was seated to his left on stage during the ceremony. "It should take no more than 18 months to build." When questioned about the announcement later, van Paasschen told The Hotel Insider that while the St. Regis project has been in the works for some time, an 18-month start-to-finish building period seemed, even by Asian standards, would be "quite a stretch."
 
It takes no stretch of the imagination to envision the development potential of Macao. It might just be getting starting, but it is already Las Vegas on steroids. "Due to the increased financial prospects of China and the region, there is a tremendous demand for resorts," said van Paasschen. "It has been accelerating, and it is only likely to keep growing. I'd say the growth and demand extends way out into the future."