A relatively new concept, integrated resorts (IRs) have moved on from being casino-centric venues (essentially a casino with a hotel attached) to being ‘a district that is fully integrated with amenities and operates as a fluid, market-driven space’. Donald Gasper talks with experts on the topic about how such resorts are developing in the Asian context.

Integrated resort complexes are emerging throughout Asia as stand-alone casino properties develop into IRs with convention facilities, theatres, arenas, spas and retail outlets.

“An Asian destination without a casino resort is now the exception,” says Dr. Glenn McCartney, professor in international integrated resort management at the University of Macau.

“IRs should be part of a broader tourism development master plan to rejuvenate an area or to enhance tourism by bringing more conventions or visitors attracted to events or entertainment,” he argues.

“Marina Bay Sands IR in Singapore is a good example showing business, residential and leisure complexes as part of an overall strategy and vision. The main economic benefits are gaming and non-gaming taxes to the government and the vast numbers of locals that will be employed as a consequence of the development. If planned correctly the IR and its various brand partnerships throughout – be it a theme park, retail, restaurants or shows – can enhance the image of the destination.”

Cultural Connections

But to flourish, Asian IRs cannot simply copy foreign models. Costly mistakes have been made by gaming industry operators in Las Vegas, Macau and Singapore, says McCartney.

The issue is a cultural one knowing the habits and motives of an Asian audience compared to a Western one. Culture has many layers.

Taking one cultural component of food, this is a major issue within Chinese and other Asian audiences and can influence other decision-making criteria. As an example, China is as large as Europe in terms of landmass, but in the way you would say that Portuguese food is different to German food, so there is a need to recognize the diversity of tastes, ingredients, cooking styles, food delivery and menus across the whole of China. Over the years Macao has attempted bars and nightclubs but, given the visitor market is mainly from China, development has been limited, says McCartney.

“The challenge Macau continues to have is finding the right type of showroom entertainment that will draw consistently large audiences,” says Dr. Andy Nazarechuk, an expert on integrated resorts now based in Subic Bay, the Philippines. “It will take more time for both Macau’s integrated resorts and its customer base to mature and take full advantage of the wide range of experiences offered in Macau.”

Las Vegas has been building integrated resorts for the past 50 years but it didn’t brand its casinos as integrated resorts.

Singapore Sling

Singapore created the term integrated resort. Singapore’s IR is a new and positive brand name that makes it easier for the public to support a comprehensive facility that also includes a casino, Nazarechuk explains.

“The Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa are two of the best integrated resorts in the world!” he exclaims. “The Marina Bay Sands features one of the largest convention and exhibition centres in the region and attracts professional visitors who attend a conference and enjoy the facilities. Singapore built an integrated resort with a casino, not a casino with a resort.”

Macau and Singapore are two very different IRs, says McCartney. “Singapore firmly put tourism development as a major assessment within the bid criteria for an IR. Macao lacked this through its liberalisation process, but Singapore had the ability to learn from Macao.”

“I believe Asian IRs have been evolving in the past decade. Even Las Vegas IRs have been learning from Macao and Singapore IR developments in order to cater for Asian audiences better.  Again it’s about what cultural components can work and which ones will not, be it a retail brand or an event. IR development from Las Vegas to Asia has been a continuous learning process especially since Macao’s casino liberalisation in early 2000. It is still a process of learning and adapting given changing trends and globalisation – but of course ensuring that the IR that opens has predicted all these elements more precisely to attract visitation. An IR should not remain static – there needs to be a constant revaluation on the many products and services on offer, and not on offer.”

“Every country in the region, if not the world, wants an integrated resort just like the ones in Las Vegas, Singapore, and Macau,” says Nazarechuk, asked where the next IRs are likely to emerge. “If a country has a population that would have income levels necessary to financially support an IR, then it is possible. If a country is already a major tourism destination, that is another positive factor. Regulatory controls, tax structures, workforce issues, government stability, infrastructure quality, and community support are just a few of the things that operators review before considering the construction of a multibillion dollar IR. IR operators want long term stability along with a strong return on investment. Japan meets or exceeds nearly every factor that operators require when seeking new developments. Japan is the hottest destination for an IR and the region will be watching the process closely.”