Signs of getting it right in Macau

Club Cubic was heaving at 1.30am on the last Thursday night in November. Nearly 3,000 of the Pearl River Delta’s most beautiful people gathered on the second level of the City of Dreams resort, a space that in the past has often felt as desolate and forbidding as a New York City subway station during the wee hours. On that night, Psy, the Korean rapper behind the mega-hit Gangnam Style, was in town and Club Cubic was the place to be. Sometime past 2am, Psy took the stage, gave the crowd his song and his horse dance and galloped off, but the party continued. It was a night to remember in Macau.

During a ten day visit culminating with the late night Psy-ting, there were clear signs that Macau is creating more nights to remember for visitors from China’s growing middle class that are presently driving casinos revenue growth. For more than a year, expansion of mass market gaming has outstripped VIP growth.

According to participants at last month’s Asian Gaming and Hospitality’s Congress, mass market growth reflects Macau and mainland authorities’ push to diversify the economy away from gambling toward broader tourism and leisure activities, as I wrote in the December issue of Macau Business. Junket business insiders at the conference also offered examples of Beijing’s efforts to curtail VIP play. Whatever the reason, mass market spending is rising in Macau.

On this visit, it seemed Macau’s casinos resorts had sharpened their game as tourist destinations, getting things right more often than has been their custom. Maybe it was my imagination due to spending hours on massage tables and in whirlpools to research an article on luxury spas for the January edition of Macau Business, and enjoying five-star hospitality at their host hotels. Maybe it’s because resorts that needed to learn have had great examples to follow, such as the intelligent, comfortable room design and equipment at Grand Lisboa and the right resort elements for Asia at Galaxy Macau. But mostly, it may be that resorts, especially the ones in Cotai with huge footprints, need to have more traffic and paying customers to function and feel right. As mass market tourism grows, and more people shop, eat and play in plain sight rather than behind VIP room walls, it’s happening.

Now Macau needs to take the next step and give tourists who come for a good time reasons to stay for more than a day and keep coming back. Sure, gambling will continue to be part of the mix, but there needs to be more. Psy’s appearance underlined the thirst for entertainment. The Pearl River Delta is looking for a good time, and Macau seems finally to have figured out how to deliver one. Now let the good times roll.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.