As Tiger Resort Leisure & Entertainment's property in the Philippines begins to take its place on the Manila skyline, the sheer size and scale of the project is becoming apparent.
The resort will be the third to open in the Entertainment City gaming hub and will be the biggest so far, on a site of about 44 hectares. The project stems from the vision of dynamic Japanese tycoon Kazuo Okada, who has a long association with the Philippines and a long-term faith in its future potential.
The first phase of the project will open by the end of this year with an investment of $2.4 billion. It promises to offer a unique experience for visitors that will differentiate the resort from the others already in the market.
However, analysts have expressed concerns about the ability of the Philippines to support so many projects, warning of cannibalization from existing resorts. They point to a lack of supporting infrastructure and a lack of enthusiasm among mainland Chinese for the country as a tourist destination.
AGB recently sat down with Tiger Resorts’ president Steve Wolstenholme to discuss Okada’s vision, progress in the development and why he’s so enthusiastic about the future.
“The chairman’s vision is quite amazing and he has a close association with the Philippines,” he said. “He is certainly enamoured by the people and many of the environmental assets that it has, such as the beautiful islands.”
The vision is to create the connection between Tiger Resorts and other natural assets of the Philippines. As a result, the company may consider future investment elsewhere in the country.
Mr. Okada wants to grow the global awareness of the Philippines, and if that means additional facilities, I feel confident that his vision will come to fruition.
The Philippines posted gross domestic product growth of 5.8 percent in 2015, and the Asian Development Bank forecasts growth will rise to 6 percent this year, driven by consumption and investment. In 2015, GGR rose 17 percent to P130 billion (US$2.75 billion).
In terms of the Manila resort, Tiger is aiming to develop an iconic property that will further help to put the capital city on the international map, as well as appeal to the country’s large and growing middle-class population.
“We have spent a great deal of money on ensuring we create a wow feature. If you look at Marina Bay Sands it’s an iconic symbol of Singapore even though it hasn’t been there that long,” he said. “If you look at Manila there isn’t that iconic structure and I think they are yearning for one.”
To that end, the centrepiece of the resort will be the fountain, it will project water 100 metres into the air, clearing the surrounding buildings by 30 metres. It will be one of the top three fountains in the world.
Around the fountain, the company plans to capitalize on expertise and technology to create digital mapping images of Philippine and international destinations, such as Palawan. The resort will also feature an indoor beach pool and club, which will be climate controlled, as well as a wide range of retail and restaurant offerings to ensure it’s “not just a casino.”
“It’s a bold step but I think as far as driving awareness and pride among the people of Manila, we are well on the way to creating that.”
The company is aiming to open a major portion of its Phase 1 by the end of the year, including the fountain. Once finished the twin hotel towers will have 1,000 rooms.
The gaming space at the resort will take up about 3 percent of the total area of the facility. Once complete, there will be 500 gaming tables and 3,000 slot machines.
“We recognize and fully understand what the industry can provide us. But we also recognize that we want to provide a very different and memorable experience and sometimes that requires a lot of intellectual property that we have the expertise within our broader organization to develop,” he said.
“Many of our products will be exclusive and that will provide a very compelling proposition.
“I feel very comfortable with the level of investment. I think we will have extraordinary numbers of people coming. They will come in not just to visit the casino, we certainly welcome gamers, but we welcome non gamers as well.”
“This is a long-term initiative and there’s an investment to be made to bring this to reality. We do have financial projections and they are quite robust but we feel confident that we can attract enough visitation to provide an experience that is unique and not focus entirely on the mainland China market,” he adds, pointing to the potential of other international markets such as Japan and Indonesia.
“With regard to other operators, if the government feels it wants to open up, we will be understanding of that, but by the same token we firmly believe the balance right now is probably a prudent one certainly in the short-to medium-term.”
One key aspect of the resort that is expected to drive visitation when it comes to the local market is retail. Manila already has three of the world’s ten biggest malls, with eye-popping visitation rates.
The first phase of the development has about 8,000 square metres of retail space, of which a significant proportion is forecast to be available at the opening.
Wolstenholme said there will be a range of retail offerings at different price points and not just the high-end luxury brands. But he also said there will be offerings that are “unique” to the Philippines, hinting at the company’s Japanese DNA.
“With regards to our retail, when you visit the site, it looks like this project was designed around retail. Our retail location is unbelievable,” he said, also pointing to the fact that the property will be linked by a skyway that will lead from the airport into the resort.
“If you could go forward 20 to 30 years this place will be totally different and it will be perceived in the same way as Hong Kong and Singapore are in Asia,” he adds.
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