by Deanna Ting | October 01, 2012
The new Sheraton adds to Macau's appeal

When you think of Macau, it's easy to envision its glittering row of casinos. There are more than 30 of them, and in recent years, casino development has only grown. In April, the Sands Cotai Central, a $4 billion investment from the Las Vegas Sands Corp., officially opened; when completed, it will offer 6,400 hotel rooms and some 300,000 square feet of meeting space. However, it's not just the mega-resorts that will entice incentive groups to this former Portuguese colony.

"What makes Macau extremely unique is its fusion of East and West cultures combining Chinese and Portuguese influences," says Paul Poon, head of business tourism and events for the Macau Government Tourist Office. "It also has intriguing historical sites built from the 16th to 18th centuries, as well as several Michelin-rated restaurants and award-winning spas."

In other words, Macau has quite a bit going on for a peninsula that measures only 10.89 square miles. "For incentive planners who have never visited Macau, they will discover how luxurious a destination it is, with world-class hotels, a friendly culture, unparalleled service, and unique cuisine," Poon adds.

For one, Macau is very easy to access. Only a 50-minute ferry ride from Hong Kong, Macau has numerous air connections within Asia from major hubs, including Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, and Singapore. In 2016, the new Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge will cut travel time in half. For U.S. visitors, no visa is required and English is widely spoken.

Poon suggests planners arrange for their groups to take part in a morning tai chi class, learn how to write Chinese calligraphy, or even participate in a traditional Chinese dragon boat race. Macanese cuisine - a meld of Chinese and Portuguese influences - is on full display at local markets, and Portuguese wine tastings and Macanese cooking classes are popular. Thrill-seekers may want to bungee jump off the 764-foot-tall Macau Tower, considered to be the world's highest commercial bungee jump.

Macau's resorts and casinos offer all the polish and glamour of Vegas, with gaming and non-gaming properties from brands that include Conrad, Wynn, The Venetian, MGM Grand, and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. In April 2011, the 2,200-room Galaxy Macau resort opened, including a Banyan Tree hotel. In September, Macau welcomed its largest hotel ever - the 3,863-room Sheraton Macao Hotel, Cotai Central - as part of the massive Sands Cotai Central casino resort. The Sheraton Macao is Starwood's biggest hotel. This massive investment, says Starwood Senior Vice President of Sales Christie Hicks, is a testament to Starwood's faith in the travel market in Macau, and China overall.

"If you look at the growth in Macau over the last several years, this is a market that, from a global planner's perspective, you must be present in," Hicks says. "With so much global media and business focus on China these days, it makes sense to consider Macau as a prime incentive destination," she adds. "It's really special and amazing."