I just returned from a behind-the-scenes tour of the Venetian Macao, soon to be the world’s largest casino, along with many other superlatives, when it opens at the end of this month. But it still has three weeks to go, and though the construction is done, the huge, multi-million-square-foot property is aflutter with thousands of hard-hatted workers putting the finishing touches on the place – golden chandeliers in the conference halls, felt on the game tables, custom outfittings for the swish luxury shops that line just about every corridor.
It is a massive undertaking (click here for a rundown of the features and here for a floor plan). From the scale of the place I’d expected an imposing, Bond villain lair-type atmosphere (and there was some of that – the employee entrances had recently switched from a hand-size-measuring ID system to a face-recognition one), but everyone seemed to be going about his task fairly cheerily. Movers in the packed service elevators squeezed past each other with grins and the employee cafeteria buzzed with excited chatter in Cantonese and Mandarin. (Most of the workers at this stage, due to already full-to-bursting employment in Macau, plus lower wages, come from across the border.) Morale seems to be high with the big day just around the corner.
The Venetian will be the first of the “integrated resorts” on the Cotai Strip, a sort of phase two for the SAR, and a testing ground for Macau’s next big thing, the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) industry. Many of the six other resorts currently planned for the strip, built on reclaimed land between the once separate islands of Coloane and Taipa (hence “Co” and “tai”) will have conference space, though none as big as the Venetian’s, which to my eyes resembled the inside of about four Home Depots back to back – and there was another identical floor upstairs.
MICE, of course, is now the backbone of Macau’s spiritual cousin, Las Vegas, thanks to Sheldon Adelson, the boss of Las Vegas Sands, the Venetian’s parent company. But despite the presence of a sparkling new convention center in just about every Chinese city, China’s MICE market is still immature. Adelson’s number two, Bill Weidner, is betting on the sector to grow rapidly in importance as Chinese companies continue to move up the value chain and begin thinking more broadly and strategically. With so much money at stake I’m sure it’s more than just a gamble, but in order for Macau to replicate Vegas’s transition, it needs to seep into the collective consciousness of China’s business travelers as something more than a place for gambling and the occasional whoring. Judging by the patronage of the plain-vanilla casinos back on Macau Peninsula, that will be an even bigger undertaking.