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Macau Tourism

Macau: A Complex Destination in the PRC

Dr. Elinor Garely, eTN Staff Writer  Jun 08, 2009

Exactly! Where is it?

It is so interesting... otherwise smart and educated people are at a loss to determine the location of Macau. Geographically this complex city is located in southern China’s Guangdong province and can be reached via Hong Kong by helicopter and ferry or by air via Hong Kong or directly to Macau International Airport (MIA).

Been There
The intriguing history of Macau challenges even the savviest traveler since its heritage was originally Chinese, became a trading center for Portuguese sailors engaged in slave trade between China, Peru, Cuba and South America; was a neutral port in South China during WW II; saw Japanese domination from 1943-1945 and currently operates under Chinese governance as an SAR (Special Administrative Region). The PRC has promised Macau that it will remain “one country, two systems” operating with a high degree of autonomy until 2049 (approximately) in all operations except foreign affairs and defense.

Intricate Design: China 101
When Macau was under Portuguese rule the area was overrun with corrupt bureaucrats who managed the casinos and industry capitalists. As Macau’s colonial era ended casino politics became more complicated as organized crime expanded and the PRC liberalized the gaming industry. Macau in the late 1999’s was Crime Central and gangster’s exercised violence that often duplicated high-profiled assassinations usually associated with the movie versions of early Las Vegas.

Describing the Macau of today is a challenge. Think of a chrysanthemum (where the petals of the flowers expand from a gentle center core to a luxurious blossom) combined with the beauty with the glitz of LA’s Rodeo Drive, the traffic mélange of Beijing, the mix and quality of Shanghai’s five-star luxury hotels, and the hunger for high-end gambling found in the VIP saloons of Las Vegas, Reno and Monte Carlo – and the Macau landscape starts to take shape.

The mix of Asian, Portuguese, European and other cultures in Macau creates an ambiance that is both tumultuous and melodious as millions of visitors mix and mingle, dance and drink, site see and shop in a splendid urgency to spend money faster than it can be counted. Recession/depression? These words have not reached Macau where shoppers form long lines to purchase “real” bags/shoes/sweaters/jewelry from Louis Vuitton, Coach, Dior, Prada, Manolo, and other international high-end designers that are so expensive that only Asian high-rollers are likely buyers.

The Grand Canal shopping mall at the Venetian Hotel and Casino has hundreds of retail options that include Brooks Brothers, Chopard, Versace, Tiffany, and Tourneau.

Rumor has it that police at the Macau borders review purchases, forcing those with fabulous fakes (i.e., Gucci, LVs) to give them up or pay a hefty fee – thereby encouraging brand seekers to acquire the real thing or nothing at all.

Although Macau’s history of triads and gangs developed its alluringly dangerous (and historical) persona, the PRC has taken a strong position against crime making this city a safe place for visitors. Macau Security Forces number 5,500 and as of 2000 only 176 drug-related offenses were reported.

Anok Alexandre, the assistant security mkanager for the Sofitel Ponte 16 Resort, concluded that after years of working for law enforcement and private security - Macau is a safe destination. His observations are validated by as well as the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office reporting that, “The incidence of violent crime to foreigners is low…”

Gambling with a Purpose
Regrets are few among Macau gamblers because 3% of gross revenue is deducted by the Macau government and dedicated to fund cultural, social and public infrastructure projects. The major players in the industry (as of February 2002) are Steve Wynn, Wynn Resorts; Stanley Ho, Macau Gaming Company/ SJM, and Galaxy Casino (a joint venture between the Venetian casino owned by Sheldon Adelson and Hong Kong businessman Lui Chi–woo).

Thomas Yip, Sofitel’s Front Office Manager recommends the destination for “girls” night out. While the guys are glued to the baccarat tables at the Altira Hotel where the casino floors look more like a well-designed corporate board rooms, the “girls” can dress-up and head for the Cirque de Soleil’s Zaia (the exquisite story of a young girl who dreams of a space journey), dine lavishly at the Belcancao buffet (located in the Four Seasons Hotel mall), order a few drinks at the Lions Bar at the MGM Grand, and taxi back to their hotel at 3 AM.

Interested in what HK $1.9 billion can create? Bring the guys to Fisherman’s Wharf, settle them in at the Sand’s Casino (the largest casino in the universe) and the “girls” can head off to shop at Arte, Belford Jewellery and the Chinese Art Gallery, stopping for dinner at the Afrikana where musicians entertain, and a buffet or a la carte menu selection satisfies the hungriest shopper.

Even if you are not into food and think that with museums to visit and games of risk (and reward) to devour vacation time, the MGM Grand’s Imperial Court Restaurant must be experienced. Order their “set” Chinese restaurant for incredible bites.

Another “must do” is the Friday wine tastings (Meet@6) at the Aurora Restaurant of the Altira Hotel. The hotel’s terrace boasts one of the best views of Macau plus an ingenious Chef who has the creativity to blend the uniqueness of the locale with flights of wines and yummy hors d’oeuveres creating a splendid way to spend a romantic evening in sensuous Macau.

Culture Preserved
Travelers often fly to a destination specifically to visit museums, and a visit to the Macau Museum of Art will not disappoint. Five floors of exhibits run from Chinese calligraphy and ceramics to contemporary art and sculpture. Of special interest is the Gallery of Historical Pictures (3rd floor) where the history of Macau is richly detailed in original photographs.

For a cultural WOW – visit the Handover Gifts Museum. Marketing managers must have been on holiday when the museum was branded, but it is a “must do.” Folks that schedule an hour (or two) to visit will view the gifts offered by the 56 Chinese ethnic communities to celebrate the establishment of the Macau SAR. Designed in the nation’s unique artistic regional styles, the art and sculptures represent the best wishes of the ethnic groups for Macau’s prosperous future.
Future Hospitality Travel and Tourism Managers

Newly successful tourism destinations sometimes forget the importance of educating students to take the reins of the industry as it expands. This is not the case in Macau where the Institute for Tourism Studies (started in 1995) is laying the academic foundation for management excellence. International students as well as interested young men and women from Hong Kong and Macau are able to major in tourism, heritage hospitality, tourism event planning, retailing and marketing – receiving Bachelor of Science degrees as well as Professional Certificates in occupational skills.
Getting to/from Macau

Land in Hong Kong
From the east coast it takes a very long time to get to Macau (approximately 18 hours) and Cathy Pacific that flies from JFK to Hong Kong. Passengers with fat wallets are placed in Business Class “pods” (a combination of seat, lounge chair and sleeping pad) that definitely falls into the “try it once” category. If you saw the movie The Body Snatchers you will understand what the pod looks like and why passengers feel like the “pea in the pod.”

Petite travelers experience a “return to the womb” moment when they snuggle into a pod while American-sized travelers (with a touch of claustrophobia) may find pod-travel a questionable expense (approximately $8000 r/t). There is no alternative: Economy class seats are teeny- tiny, toilets are barely maintained (think overflow), and you have to bring along your own victuals if you want something healthy to munch on during the flight.

Head to the Ferry Pier
When the flight lands in Hong Kong, passengers transit through the airport terminal to the Sea Express/TurboJet Ferry Service for Macau. Sadly the departure/arrival schedules are not synchronized – so – there may be hours of downtime at the Hong Kong airport – waiting on the ferry. Looking on the bright side - there is excellent high-end shopping and free hi-fi allowing travelers to stay in touch as they tick off the hours.

When the ferry finally docks in Macau join a queue for luggage retrieval and immigration then search for ground transportation to hotels. This process can be short-circuited by taking a helicopter from Hong Kong to Macau and/or arranging for VIP pick-up at the Macau ferry-port as expediters steer visitors around all the luggage/immigration red-tape and move clients swiftly to their destination.

The airport/ferry-port log-jams make absolutely no sense. The PRC should want to get visitors to the hotels and casinos hassle-free. Port delays are just exhausting, put travelers in a very bad mood, and the energy that should be used for baccarat and shopping is wasted on trying to get through the port(s).

Superlative Hotels
The good news! When you finally arrive at your five-star luxury hotel you will be a very happy camper. Select from the Sofitel (excellent location within walking distance of old-Macau), the MGM Grand (which it really is) or the Venetian (3000 suites) – there is no question that the services are ideal, dining opportunities are endless, and the historical touchstones can still be enjoyed.

For travelers who have not yet been to Shanghai and Beijing but are highly motivated to get a taste of China, Macau is China 101. Culture, customs and cuisine have been preserved and the slower pace makes Macau a destination of choice.

On the Net:
• Altira Hotel:
• Aurora Restaurant at Altira:
• Belcanção at Four Seasons:
• Cathay Pacific -
• Cirque du Soleil – Zaia:
• Four Seasons Hotel:
• Imperial Court Restaurant at MGM:
• Macau Tower:
• MGM Macau:
• Miramar Restaurant:
• Restaurant Litoral:
• SeaExpress/TurboJet ferry service:
• Sofitel Macau -
• Macau’s Fisherman’s Wharf:
• Africana Restaurant at Fisherman’s Wharf;
• Macau Government Tourist Office:
Aurora Meet @ Six every Friday Aurora Meet @ Six every Friday

Macau: A Complex Destination in the PRC
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