MacauIt’s 8:30am and Macau’s Red Market is buzzing with locals who grocery shop as a daily ritual. Stalls are stuffed with colorful Pearl River Delta produce, fresh fish hauled in from the South China Sea and a global collection of exotic spices. Shellfish and poultry are so fresh, in fact, they’re delivered live twice a day.

Shoulder to shoulder with the regulars, we scrutinize Thai chili peppers, capsicum, ginger, king prawns and whole chickens. Our mission, however, has a distinctively different flavor. Armed with 400 patacas (roughly $50) and limited on haggling time, our two teams race against the clock to purchase provisions for prepping African chicken and Portuguese seafood rice in a competitive cooking class.

When Portuguese seafarers settled along China’s southeast coast in the 1550s where Macau is today, they infused local dishes with culinary influences from Europe and their outposts in India, Africa and South America. The multicultural milieu is Macau’s most intoxicating experience, where daily Chinese life mixes with seemingly every other country’s. But nowhere does Macau’s role as a gateway for cultural exchange play itself out more splendidly than in its cuisine.

This eclectic epicurean stew results in a distinctive Macanese fare, with our African chicken considered a signature dish.

“Incentive activity interests vary a lot,” explains the affable Bruno Simões, CEO of DOC-DMC-Macau. “But with the US market, we see a fondness for cooking and this type of cuisine in China.” Aside from these foodie classes that Simões arranges for up to 40, delicacies can be savored everywhere from cozy hideaways along narrow cobblestone lanes to swank hotels like the 791-room Grand Hyatt Macau.

That’s where we found Beijing Kitchen.

The 225-seat exhibition kitchen and restaurant serves Northern Chinese specialities in an avant-garde dining room under a ceiling of suspended Chinese birdcages. We gather in the six private nooks seating up to 10 each to watch the chefs in action while they painstakingly prepare paper-thin pancakes with traditional Peking duck inside a wood-fired oven. Other classics include assorted dim sum, braised Kao Fu beancurd, stir-fried scallops, hand-pulled noodles and pan-fried pork dumplings. “What’s so unique is how Beijing Kitchen augments the Chinese dining experience with certain Western elements, such as fine wines, gourmet coffees and European desserts,” says general manager Paul Kwok. Following our host’s lead, we reticently dip our duck skin remnants into a bowl of sugar. A Lean Cuisine meal it isn’t, but it’s literally a melt-in-your-mouth ecstasy.

DIVING + DRIVING So get this. We’re standing outside the top of Macau Tower—the 10th tallest freestanding building in the world—tricked out with shops, restaurants and 52,000 sf of ballroom space and banquet halls accommodating 1,000 for dinner and 2,000 for receptions.

The prominent skyscraper is more famous for being the highest bungee jump in the world, where adrenaline junkies purposely leap off a platform perched off the 764-ft observation deck. Thankfully, we don’t have any scheduled teambuilding events revolving around this little bit of craziness. Instead, some of our group willingly harness up for a “skywalk” circumnavigating a 6-ft ledge with no handrail. The rest of us feel perfectly content soaking in the views from the Tower’s revolving 360° café.

For more grounded action, check out the Grand Prix Museum at the Macau Tourism Activity Center. Each November, more than 300 professional drivers roar along Macau’s Formula 3 Guia Circuit that climbs, twists and turns through city streets during one of Asia’s most famous sporting events.

Showcasing the event’s history, the exhibition hall is decked out with actual vehicles that have competed since the race’s 1954 launch. Your attendees will instantly gravitate toward the racing car simulators to test their skills and experience the sensation of driving 125 mph with your bottom three inches off the asphalt.

Macau was once a major waystation for European wine distribution out into the colonies, hence the 15,000-sf Macau Wine Museum adjacent to the Grand Prix facility. This is another one of Simões’ top choices for lectures, tastings and catered dinners for up to 60. Combine all of the halls, meeting rooms and auditorium space throughout the Tourism Activity Center for groups up to 500 attendees.

BETTING ON THE FUTURE Garnering the grandest hype in Macau is the Cotai Strip, a burgeoning destination akin to the Las Vegas Strip. The massive land reclamation district connecting Macau’s Taipa and Coloane islands is targeting some 30 world class casinos and hotels, with its City of Dreams urban entertainment, dining and meeting facility favorably compared to Las Vegas CityCenter. The 11 sq-mile territory is banking that this fusion of layered culture and vibrant properties will up its ante in wooing international MICE business.

Tom Hinton of CRI Global, a San Diego-based association management firm, has become a fast fan.

“It’s a blend of the old China and the new with its ancient culture and traditions existing under the shadow of exciting new venues, casinos and UNESCO sites,” he says.

There’s also no shortage of group space.

The 3,000-suite Venetian Macau-Resort-Hotel opened in August 2007 followed a year later by the adjacent 360-room/suite Four Seasons Hotel Macau. Together they constitute the largest single hotel complex in Asia, not to mention the third largest building on earth—roomy enough to hold 90 Boeing 747s.

As an intimate escape from Cotai’s dynamic energy, the Four Seasons pairs neoclassical elegance with modern Asian chic. Indo-Portuguese furnishings and original Chinese paintings framed by two grand staircases evoke the European mansions of old Macau. While opulent, it’s far from intimidating.

“The nice thing about this property is how planners enjoy peace of mind since they’re working with a Four Seasons,” says Julius Santos, director of marketing. “The Macau destination and the gaming aspect also make this a truly unique Four Seasons.”

Each generously proportioned guestroom and suite reflects equal parts style and comfort with a well-defined work area, 42-inch plasma television, WiFi connection, voice mail system, safe and stocked bar. The marble bathroom is appointed with plush touches as well, including a dual sink vanity, separate walk-in rain shower and deep soaking tub with LCD television.

Within the 27,500 sf of conference space, the 7,500-sf Grand Ballroom accommodates 400-pax banquets; 600 receptions. For relaxation, there’s the 14-suite Spa at Four Seasons, five outdoor swimming pools and a walkway of designer boutiques connecting Four Seasons to Venetian.

CARNAVALE ON THE COTAI Designed from the ground up with meetings and incentives in mind, the $2.4 billion flagship Venetian Macau is equally as compelling as its Vegas counterpart, and somewhat larger in size and foot traffic, welcoming up to 86,000 visitors a day.

Other stats are downright staggering as well: 350 international retail options within the one million-sf Grand Canal Shoppes, plus 30 restaurants and lounges, an 1,800-seat theater staging Asia’s only Cirque du Soleil production, and a 550,000-sf casino with 6,000 slots and 700 tables.

For large-scale conventions, the 800,000-sf CotaiExpo features six exhibition halls with 70,000-sf of pillar-free ballroom space, 108 meeting rooms and the 15,000-seat CotaiArena.

“For an added level of entertainment, we have a team of 150 performers who can offer the best ‘Streetmosphere’ performance one can imagine,” says Wolfram Diener, vp of conventions & exhibitions. “This is the definitive MICE option for companies wishing to host an event with all meeting, accommodation and leisure facilities fitted under one roof.”

Set against a backdrop of Renaissance Venice, the integrated resort is adorned with stunning landmark replicas of St. Mark’s Square, Doge’s Palace, Campanile Tower, and the famous canals with opera singing gondoliers. Even the 755-sf suites are large enough to host small meetings. Each is configured with a sunken living area, slew of business amenities, canopied bed and Italian marble bathroom with dual sink vanities.

Themed restaurants can be reserved for private functions as well, with the Portofino establishment handling receptions for up to 1,200 that spill from the trattoria’s interior onto an outdoor verandah overlooking a pool. There are three additional outdoor pools, the 85,000-sf MALO CLINIC Spa wellness center with 58 spa suites, and an 18-hole rooftop mini-golf course that’s ideal for teambuilding events.

A SALUTE TO LISBON The polished $1.25 billion, 593-room MGM Grand Macau opened on the waterfront in 2007 with a dramatic airy design showcasing an original Salvador Dali sculpture and 42-panel Dale Chihuly glass abstract behind the reception desk. The celebrated American glassblower has also added his flair with an enormous red chandelier, a surreal light-changing art corridor lined with more glass sculptures, and a retail shop.

The resort’s focal point looms beyond in the architecturally stunning 11,700-sf Grand Praca. The glass-domed conservatory mirrors a Portuguese square with European facades inspired by Lisbon’s Rossio train station. It’s especially suited for MICE groups, with restaurants and lounges spoking off the central square, like the conceptual open kitchen restaurant Rossio, serving charcuterie and farm fresh foodstuffs from rural China. “It’s a different experience than what you’d find at MGM Grand in Las Vegas,” explains Paul Chung, associate director of sales. “Here is deliberately designed to separate the casino and other hotel facilities into exclusive areas, while they’re still closely connected.”

The Grand Casino houses 375 tables, 900 slots and 16 private gaming rooms. The 8,680-sf Grand Ballroom hosts 680 theatre-style or 800 for receptions, sharing space with breakouts for a total of 13,800 sf of versatile convention space.

And when you the planner needs a well deserved time out, the Six Senses Spa awaits with a few luxurious twists, including “experience showers” that spritz wonderfully aromatic floral scents and an herbal steam bath.

From North America, attendees can fly EVA Air into Macau International Airport from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Newark, Toronto and Vancouver. All flights require an aircraft change at Taiwan’s Taipei Taoyuan Airport.