Asia’s all-in-one playgrounds are crowd-pullers, but are they drawing the right mix?
Clockwise from Top: Macau’s Cotai Strip (top); Casino at Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore; Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands
Since the first integrated resorts (IRs) burst onto the tourism scene some years ago, they have captured the imagination of tourists and locals alike with their glamorous appeal.
The positive effect IRs have had on destinations has been irrefutable for most. Tourist arrivals to Singapore, home to Marina Bay Sands (MBS) and Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), have skyrocketed since the mega resorts opened in 2010. Demand is still strong, with bookings seeing a double-digit increase so far this year, according to inbound operators.
“Both IRs are now leisure destinations in their own right,” said Ram Samtani, general manager, Ramesh Travels Singapore, pointing out that Universal Studios at RWS and the world-class performances and exhibitions at MBS have successfully lured holidaymakers.
Over in Macau, growing numbers of young visitors and families have also turned up since IRs opened some five years ago, said Hong Kong-based Beng Seng Travel assistant director, Colman Or, who specialises in the destination.
But fast-forward a few years, and travel consultants say IR operators around the region must walk the tightrope between pandering to the very affluent and reaching out to a wider market.
Largely seen as high-end venues, IRs have been accused by some of being too exclusive and expensive for the mid-market, and even for repeat visitors who may be willing to fork out large sums, but not beyond a certain length of stay.
Kasel Travel Solutions Philippines, CEO, Eric Papa, said this has been Resorts World Manila’s (RWM) Achilles’ heel. “The problem is it’s only for the rich to go to the casino. It has an image problem.”
Shanghai Spring International Travel Service China deputy general manager, Asia-Pacific, Zou Qingling, said the high prices of hotel rooms were the main stumbling block. “Although IRs claim that they have thousands of rooms, we still can’t get rooms during the busy season as those are saved for their VIP clients,” she noted.
India’s Classis Travel & Tour managing director, Rajendra Dhumma, added: “IRs are making an attempt to retain guests for a longer period of stay, but the room rates are steeply hiked during the weekends. Obviously this leads to a stay of a maximum of three to four nights.”
Chalking up roomnights
Arguably one of the biggest concerns of the mega resorts today is how to entice visitors to increase their length of stay.
Luo Jiajun, director, tourism management department, East China Normal University, said: “Unlike the Westerners who like to relax by sunbathing or going to the spa, Chinese travellers are more dynamic. Their vacations are all about seeing various interesting places and eating delicious food. They like to look around when they are in a foreign country and they don’t like to stick at a place for too long.”
Smaller destinations like Singapore and Macau are at a disadvantage in this respect. Nantha Travel & Tours Malaysia managing director, Nantha Gopal, said it was difficult to get his clients to stay more than two days at RWS as many travel to Singapore on weekend trips and want to see more than a theme park. Similarly, Hong Kongers rarely stay for more than a night in Macau’s IRs, pointed out Beng Seng Travel Hong Kong’s Or. “Escalating hotel rates every year also make the city more expensive compared to neighbouring destinations,” he said.
Hong Kong-based MV Destination general manager, Clemson Lo, said the IRs in Macau would have an even harder time keeping tourists within their complexes when the city’s monorail becomes functional in 2016. “I think the competition would be even worse, as tourists would be able to move around much easier.”
He added that while the IRs had a good number of entertainment acts comparable to Las Vegas, many were paid attractions. “To make it less exclusive, have more free entertainment, such as the recent Butterfly Pavilion at MGM Macau,” said Lo.
Gray Line Tours Hong Kong managing director, Michael Wu, suggested that the Macau IRs also leverage on the new development coming up on nearby Hengqin Island, a special zone in Zhuhai designated for tourism, business and conventions.
Indeed, IRs throughout Asia will have to up their game if they want to persuade their guests to stay longer, even if that means moving towards more cross-selling, said travel consultants.
Alicia Seah, senior vice-president of marketing and PR of Singapore-based CTC Travel, said: “With more theme parks being built across the border in Johor (in Malaysia), including Legoland and Hello Kitty Town, IRs could consider tie-ups.”
Malaysia’s Mayflower Acme Tours, deputy general manager, channel management, Abdul Rahman Mohamed, too, observed it was easier to sell Macau and its IRs when twinned with Hong Kong. He opined that IRs should collaborate on value-added packages. “This would appeal especially to the European and Middle East markets who love IRs because everything is confined within that space,” said Abdul Rahman.
Becoming better bedfellows
Moreover, travel experts told TTG Asia that the IRs were missing out on a number of opportunities to obtain more business.
Ramesh Travels Singapore’s Samtani said RWS and MBS should look beyond working with the largest inbound operators. “Smaller players might bring in low volumes, but they could actually deliver higher yields, as they ofen focus on more lucrative niches.”
Contract rates, or the lack thereof, are another bugbear of the trade. Nantha Travel & Tours Malaysia’s Gopal said it was difficult to work on long-term packages with his Singaporean counterparts because of the lack of contract rates from hotels. “We cannot do packaging using Internet rates,” he said.
Mayflower Acme Tours Malaysia’s Abdul Rahman agreed, saying that with such dynamic rates in Singapore, he could not commit to customers without fixed rates.
Kasel Travel Solutions Philippines’ Papa added: “(RWM) is only tapping the online market. The contract rates it gives are not that appealing compared with the good rates offered on its website.”
The price has to be right
Offering a value-for-money proposition remains key, especially for one of the largest outbound markets in Asia.
Macau’s Venetian, for one, is a hit with most categories of the Indian outbound traveller, having priced its 70m2 rooms attractively. Galaxy Macau, on the other hand, does not offer the same bang for the buck even though its 45m2 rooms are priced marginally lower, observed travel consultants.
“The Indian traveller understands the equation of value for money very well and has his distinct preferences,” said Rajesh Sethi, managing director, Carnation Travel Services India. This does not necessarily mean they want it cheap, but they will carefully examine the cash cows that most resorts milk for profit.
Mitesh Dani, managing director, Parul Tours & Travels India, contended: “IRs should offer seasonal discount packages to coincide with the Indian outbound high season. Moreover, Oriental cuisine is predominant, but there is a lack of Indian food at reasonable prices.”
A holistic assessment is needed to get the offering and the price right, said Mamta Panjani, general manager, Mercury Travels India.
A tricky balance
At least one IR so far has been trying to broaden its appeal. RWM vice-president for marketing communications, Martin Paz, said its new Remington hotel had brought affordable budget rooms and serviced apartments onto the grounds, while casual dining outlets and fast-food brands had also opened. He enumerated other recent efforts to draw more travellers “regardess of niche markets”, such as the GameZoo, a 6D theatre experience for families, and free entertainment like The Edge of Glory, an acrobatic show.
However, CTC Travel Singapore’s Seah felt that MBS and RWS had already hit the mark in terms of positioning.
“RWS has a good mix of family-oriented attractions and restaurants that cater to people from all walks of life. MBS is visibly targeted at the wealthy, but some of its attractions and food and beverage options are still accessible to the mid-market segment,” she said.
Uniglobal Singapore managing director, Victor Yam, went further to argue that the IRs should never cater to the mass market. “Singapore is small, and if both resorts cater to a wider audience, our infrastructure might not be able to cope,” he explained.
Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore
Tree Top Lofts
The IR’s latest addition to its accommodation portfolio, the unique 163m2 Angsana and Tembusu lofts offer nature-loving guests five-star luxury in verdant surroundings. Apart from close-up views of the flora and fauna in the immediate area, guests will also enjoy panoramic views of Mount Faber to the north and the forests of Sentosa to the south.
Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
The Jersey Boys
Another smash hit musical is making its way to Singapore as the year draws to a close. Premiering on November 22 in Singapore for a 14-week season, The Jersey Boys tells the real-life story of how four poverty-stricken boys grew up to become Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, one of the greatest successes in pop music history, selling 175 million records worldwide.
MGM Grand Ho Tram Beach, Vietnam
The five-star property will open in 1Q2013, offering 541 guestrooms, a convention centre, 90 live table games, 500 electronic games and VIP facilities. There will also be ocean sports, movie houses, a library, retail areas and a Kids’ Corner & Teen Centre.
Solaire Resorts & Casino, Philippines
One of four IRs that make up the Entertainment City adjacent to the Manila Bay area, Solaire will be launched in 1Q2013.The billion-dollar complex will feature a 500-key hotel, a pillar-less ballroom for up to 1,600 people and 18,500m2 of gaming space, including a 5,000m2 VIP salon.
Resorts World Manila, Philippines
The King and I
The fresh take on a beloved musical stars Leo Tavarro Valdez and Monique Wilson, veterans of the musical theatre scene. Starting September 15, the production boasts innovative props and light, sound, video technology, with a wardrobe designed by local fashion icon Rajo Laurel and Aksana Sidarava from Belarus.
Sands Cotai Central, Macau
Macau’s newest IR debuted in April with 6,000 hotel rooms and suites and 111,000m2 of retail, entertainment and dining facilities, as well as meeting and convention space. It will be complete when the world’s largest Sheraton property is inaugurated this month. Already opened are hotels by Conrad and Holiday Inn.
Additional reporting by Linda Haden, S Puvaneswary, Shekhar Niyogi, Prudence Lui, Rosa Ocampo & Hong Xu