by By Tom Isler | June 01, 2009
NLIF0609 Macau

This year, Macau is celebrating its 10th anniversary as a Special Adminis­trative Region of China, following more than 400 years as a Portuguese colony. But its transformation into a  global meetings destination is only just beginning.

Since 2004, the number of international corporate meetings held annually in Asia's gaming capital has grown from five to 107. International trade shows, which attracted 824 attendees five years ago, brought close to 130,000 people to Macau last year. All of this is the result of a booming tourism and gaming sector: By the end of the year, Macau will have more than double the number of hotel rooms (more than 18,000) it did five years ago, and, if planned projects are realized, the number will double again within the next few years.

With additional hospitality and transportation infrastructure on the way, tourism officials hope Macau -- covering just 11 square miles -- will become a much bigger player for international meetings in years ahead.

Having recently opened the 3,000-room Venetian Macao with 800,000 square feet of exhibition space and the 360-room Four Seasons Macau with 18,300 square feet of meeting space, the Las Vegas Sands Corp. announced last fall it was suspending work on the rest of its multibillion-dollar master plan, which was to bring a dozen international hotel brands and multiple casinos to the fast-growing Cotai Strip gaming corridor. But Sands executives have said the company aims to resume construction soon, perhaps before year's end, despite a recent downturn in gaming revenue in Macau and a drop in territorywide hotel occupancy to less than 70 percent.

Other hoteliers are moving ahead with their own projects. City of Dreams, a Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd. resort, is set to open this year with a 300-room Hard Rock Hotel and a 300-room Crown Towers Hotel, plus a 420,000-square-foot casino. The Hard Rock will have a ballroom for up to 300 people and another room for 80. Additional phases of the project call for an 800-room Grand Hyatt hotel, an 800-room condo hotel and a theater.

Another Cotai behemoth, Galaxy Macau, will open next year with three hotels combining for 2,500 guest rooms. Some of the more decadent touches at the resort, according to promotional materials, include "the world's largest wave pool" with a wet bar on the roof of the facility, surrounded by a sandy beach dotted with private cabanas. The property also will have an indoor and outdoor spa.

The 301-room L'Arc New World Hotel will open on the Macau peninsula during the third quarter of this year with 4,970 square feet of meeting space.

The US$700 million Encore at Wynn Macau is well under way and should open next year with a total of 400 luxury suites and four villas, plus new restaurants and retail space.

The 408-room Sofitel Macau at Ponte 16 opened last October with 5,200 square feet of meeting space.

Most North American visitors to Macau (who do not need a visa to enter) take the ferry from Hong Kong, which takes about an hour. A new ferry terminal is being built closer to the Cotai Strip than the existing terminal and should be in operation by 2012.

An expansion of Macau International Airport also is in the works.

The first-ever Michelin Guide to Hong Kong and Macau was released last December. Thirty-three restaurants were tested in Macau. Robuchon a Galera, a French eatery at the Hotel Lisboa, was the only establishment in the territory to earn three stars.