With its pristine, golden beaches and exotic temples, Asia has cemented itself as a premium tourist region, attracting millions of travellers every year.
Yet, these same attractions may also be keeping them away from Asia’s integrated resorts, with many tourists no longer drawn by slot machines and gaming tables, instead preferring to spend their hard-earned time and money on non-gaming entertainment options.
The China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI) found that Chinese tourists these days are looking to stay in fine accommodation, they want to eat well and explore local culture. More than 122 million travellers came from China in 2016.
So how do Asia’s IRs ensure they remain a focal point for travellers?
Tim McNally, chairman of the board of NagaCorp, said it's about tying your property with local culture and attractions.
NagaWorld is situated in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. Over the years, the country has worked hard to shake off its unsafe image, and is now known for its beautiful temples, vibrant culture and unbeatable hospitality.
“When it comes to the mass market, tourism has been our strategy since inception,” said McNally. “Our message was not gaming or not marketing, it was about selling Cambodia.”
“If you come to Nagacorp you’ll see local Cambodian dancing during the day, and hear local Cambodian music at night. We also emphasize local art, food, culture.”
Lotte Tour Group, which is developing the Jeju Dream Tower in South Korea, also sees great advantages in being positioned so close to competing attractions.
The main island of Jeju has been known for its many beach resorts, 40 world-class golf courses, volcanic landscapes and its Hallasan Mountain.
“It is the best thing on Earth,” says Lawrence Teo, vice president of operations, talking about the attractions available at Jeju.
“It takes more than just a mountain, or one or two IRs to bring in a crowd,” he says. Jeju Island is already a tourist, healing, getaway, resort island for the Chinese.”
“When we talk about casinos, nowadays you don’t just talk about VIPs, you talk about the mass volume of customers that you get. It is Asia's best tourist attractions that help you bring in the customers for essentially, free.”
That being said, you need to make a name for yourself too, said Teo.
Lotte Tour’s Dream Tower stands at 169 meters tall, Jeju’s highest building. It is positioned just three kilometers from Jeju International Airport, and can be found in the intersection of five of the island’s most important roads.
“For our project, the number one attraction, is location, location, location,” says Teo. “We’ve made ourselves a ‘must-visit’ destination for all foreign tourists.”
But it’s also about positioning your IR with the country’s destination image, which can only be achieved by forming a close relationship with your country’s tourism ministry, says McNally.
“We joined hands and locked step with the ministry of tourism a long time ago… long before these [visitation] numbers became significant. We would attend tourism conferences all across South East Asia, sitting side-by-side with the ministry of tourism.”
Glen McCartney, Associate Professor in International Integrated Resort Management at the University of Macau, says there are a lot of things that have to be put in place that only governments in collaboration with the IR can enact.
“It’s not just about a beautifully themed resort,” he said. A cumbersome visa process, airport congestion, or the inability to get a taxi are a lot of negative touch points that can contribute to a country’s image.
“As you plan your IR, from day one there has to be collaboration between the various government departments, tourism office and so forth,” said McCartney.
In 2014-15, Nagacorp purchased two Airbus 320s, and leased a third from Bassaka Airlines of Cambodia. After obtaining the requisite aviation approvals in China, the company has been bringing in tourists from Hangzhou, Changsha, Xi’an (in Mainland China), areas that consumer airlines were not servicing effectively.
“Partnering with an airline to bring the customer to your door is positive step,” said McNally.
“We would bring them to Cambodia, they stay a few nights with us, the beneficial component is that they're utilizing our restaurants and our hotel facilities.”
“Certainly there’s a spillover to our gaming facilities, but the real thing is that we’re introducing Cambodia, and the tourists are spending money in the community,” he said.
Jeju has already benefitted from a number of government initiatives including visa-free entry for Chinese nationals and increased flight connectivity. Tourist numbers, which have grown 28 percent every year since 2009, are expected to rise further once the second international airport is complete, planned for 2025.
In the future, Nagacorp says it expects to see more tourists coming from Southeast Asia, naming specifically Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Indonesia.
Lotte Tour on the other hand says while it will continue to focus on East and Northeast China, as well as Japan, while Taiwan, Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia will be closely watched.
The country may see a drop in visitors from China after the Chinese government ordered its travel agencies to ban group tours to Korea in retaliation for Seoul’s deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti missile system in 2017, but the effects of this is yet to be observed.
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