The corridor is three football fields long. That’s my estimate as I approach the 52,000-sf Kashgar Grand Ballroom at the new Sheraton Macau Hotel, Cotai Central, now the largest Starwood property in the world.
Approximately 500 members of the media are descending upon the hotel for the grand opening festivities inside the 1,829-room Sky Tower building. Early next year, the Earth Tower will open with an additional 2,067 rooms. Sands China Ltd’s latest adventure is now Macau’s biggest hotel, fully integrated into the Sands Cotai Central casino resort complex. With 160,000 sf of total meeting space at Sheraton Macau, a meeting planner could almost stage a citywide without even leaving the complex.
MEDIA ROOMS & THE CLUB
Eddie Sit, manager of online marketing/distribution, leads us up into the higher floors of the hotel where each Deluxe Suite features what Sit calls a “media room”—or what many other people call a fully wired karaoke setup. Next, the Ambassador Suites come with private massage treatment rooms, and from there, we scope out one of eight Presidential Suites replete with living rooms, pantries and leather mahjong tables. Gazing out the windows, you can see the Pearl River Delta, busy Cotai Strip and a slew of outdoor swimming pools.
We then experience the Sheraton Club, a hotel within the hotel and a facility ripe for private events. After all, it would only make sense for the world’s largest Sheraton to boast the world’s largest Sheraton Club, featuring 300 rooms and 270 suites. The Club’s plush dining room, bar and lounge can seat groups up to 274 people.
The Sheraton Club provides a full complimentary sit-down breakfast and dinner hors d’oeuvres every day. Inaccessible to the rest of the hotel guests, the facility allows families to congregate in the dining room while others conduct business in the privacy of the lounge area. The artwork on the wall matches the earthy color schemes and furniture, creating a welcome and relaxed atmosphere.
Hoyt Harper, senior vice president of brand management for Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, meets us in the lounge area and gives us the lowdown. He says if Las Vegas can evolve from a casino-centric destination into the tradeshow capital of the world, well then, Macau is primed to be the Asian equivalent. Sands has the gaming and entertainment expertise, and Sheraton can deliver the same for international meetings—small, large and enormous.
“One of the key drivers for repositioning Macau as a destination was the ability to attract meetings and conventions to this market,” he explains. “You had to have an anchor tenant that had the capacity to be a self-contained meeting facility, as well as a headquarter hotel for larger citywide meetings…. Our sales force was drooling over this project.”
Attendees with Club access also receives special deals from the 19,000-sf Shine Spa, where elements of the Chinese Zodiac—earth, metal, fire, water and wood—inspire the treatments. Your element determines your treatment. For example, candlelight treatments suit fire types; bamboo treatments are geared for earth people.
TASTY MULTICULTI TRIO
Intensifying the pomp and circumstance of the weekend, a few hundred journalists and Asian hotel kingpins divide up across the Sheraton Macau’s three signature restaurants: Bene, Xin and Feast. After a few courses at the first installment, everyone rotates to the next place. The sequence repeats one more time so that each group gets to experience all three kitchens.
Bene ia a chic and upbeat Italian restaurant with two tiny Chinese girls who say Buona Sera in unison to everyone who walks in. An expansive dining area, open wood-fire oven and convivial atmosphere contribute to an authentic Italian experience.
As the group plows through Hokkaido sea scallops with crushed potato, green asparagus and black truffle dressing, followed by spinach ravioli with parmesan sauce and crisp ham, various opera performers move between the tables. Over the clinking of everyone’s plates and utensils, one tuxedo-clad baritone belts out Largo al Factotum from the Barber of Seville.
Xin, the second restaurant, presents an opulent pan-Asian gourmet setting with various portals to see the chefs in action. During each group’s visit, traditional Chinese musicians perform a concert, wirelessly miked, as everyone samples a Chinese/Portuguese crossover menu of roast duck, chopped lobster and Iberico pork. More importantly, Xin offers a twist on the traditional Hong Kong hot-pot experience, which we encounter after going back a second time. Rather than supplying one hot-pot for the entire table, Xin issues each customer his or her own personal cauldron. The experience begins with everyone mingling at the black marble buffet with myriad exotic seafood and paper-thin meats—and then choosing from a number of starter broth bases like Japanese Oxtail and Chinese Herbal Supplement.
The final eatery aptly named Feast is a more casual, interactive market-style environment with several buffets and stations, complemented with showgirls gyrating on pedestals as we enter en masse. Normally it’s a family-style place, we’re told, but for this welcome the go-go girls are deemed necessary. Meanwhile, Copacabana by Barry Manilow blasts while everyone explores the spectacular buffet.
The hotel’s award-winning director of culinary operations, Australian chef David King, presides over the whole spectacle. All three restaurants are available for creative group events, including similar music performances and live cooking.
As we escape the transnational chaos of Asian journalists and press conferences to liaise in one of the executive suites, Corinne Janssen, director of sales for associations, puts Macau into perspective. When looking for a destination, planners are probably familiar with Macau, but not necessarily the particulars.
“For one, the currency here is pegged to the U.S. dollar,” Janssen says. “So when planning far out, there’s no budget surprises. The second one being when it comes to airlift, we’ve got a huge amount of airlift from the western U.S. to Taipei. And there’s 18 flights a day from Taiwan to Macau. So that’s a very viable alternative to going through Hong Kong. And there’s also the fact that we don’t require visas.”
Continuing, Janssen says Macau presents none of the logistical complications one finds in other Asian megacities. Chiefly, if one uses the Sands complex for everything, conference scalability is no issue, nor is transportation or compound negotiations.
“An association that requires multiple price points for their delegates—three star, four star and five star—we can deliver that with one contract,” Janssen says. “And you don’t need shuttle buses. With other cities, when you have a convention center, you need ten hotels and shuttle buses.”
For the opening ceremonies later that night, a giant heliosphere suspends a contortionist above the VIP crowd on the lantern-lit Jaya pool deck. C-level Starwood executives light the fuse for a fiery Sheraton logo 30 stories above us. Outside on the street, a choreographed pyrotechnic display explodes against the nighttime sky for all of Macau to see.