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Friday, September 15, 2017, 11:32
Sands set to reap gains in Macao recovery
By Duan Ting in Hong Kong
Friday, September 15, 2017, 11:32 By Duan Ting in Hong Kong

Las Vegas-based gaming giant’s president in Macao Wilfred Wong tells Duan Ting that they are looking to entertainment, conferences and mass market to broaden revenue base and boost the city’s tourism.

Wilfred Wong Ying-wai, president of Sands China, believes the group’s business strategy to create Asia’s premier gaming, leisure, convention and meetings destination  will inject new impetus into the Macao’s future development. (ROY LIU / CHINA DAILY)

Macao’s gaming industry is showing signs of stabilizing after suffering a downturn between mid-2014 and the middle of last year; the city is transforming itself from Asia’s largest gambling hub into a leading business and leisure tourism center in Asia, catering to tourism, entertainment and conventions and exhibitions as well as gambling in order to revitalize its economy. 

Wilfred Wong Ying-wai, president of Sands China, a subsidiary of global resort developer Las Vegas Sands, told China Daily he is optimistic about the city’s transformation and future development and believes Macao continues to gain popularity. Sands introduced the integrated resort concept to Macao when they built The Venetian, supporting the Macao government’s proposals.

The Macao government had run the city’s gambling venues from the 1960s to the late 1990s when, with the establishment of the Macao Special Administrative Region, concessionaires including Sociedade de Jogos de Macau, Galaxy Casino and Wynn Resorts won the bidding and initially established Venetian, MGM Grand Paradise and Mello PBL Jogos to enter the local market. 

If you look at visitor flows in Sands China’s property each year, we are quite healthy

Wilfred Wong Ying-wai, president of Sands China

The city’s gambling industry flourished but experienced a downturn starting from 2013. According to government data, full-year gambling revenue in 2014 amounted to 351.52 billion patacas (US$43.68 billion), down 2.6 percent year on year compared with 360.75 billion patacas in 2013. 

But the situation started to recover in August last year when Macao’s gambling industry reported 1.1 percent growth year on year following the launch of Wynn Palace and opening of The Parisian Macao. The government also encouraged casino operators to develop non-gaming sectors. 

Wong attributed the recovery to the rising number of visitors to Macao, and their tendency to stay overnight in the city, which is becoming more and more attractive as a leisure resort because of its top food and entertainment services and as the economic effect of the Cotai development started to come into play. He said Macao expected to win recognition as a City of Gastronomy by the end of this year.

Parisian flair 

Sands China’s latest property, luxury hotel The Parisian — which has a half-scale Eiffel Tower as one of its landmarks and is linked by a footbridge to other properties including the Four Seasons Hotel, The Venetian and The Plaza Macau — was opened in September last year. 

Wong said The Parisian attracted visitors through its non-gaming offerings including an opera house and exhibitions, and stimulates development of surrounding areas.

The Parisian Macao accounted for US$595 million of net casino revenue, partially offsetting a US$96 million decrease at Sands Cotai Central driven by a drop in gaming volume and a lower win percentage for table games, and contributed US$34 million of net mall revenue at the shops at Parisian. The Parisian’s earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization were US$188 million in the first half of this year. 

Sands China, one of the major casino operators in Macao in terms of market share, recorded profit gains from the bottom up. According to the group’s financial report, in the first half of this year group net revenues amounted to US$3.7 billion, representing a 19.5 percent rise from US$3.09 billion last year, mainly driven by the opening of the Parisian Macao and the recovery of the Macao gaming market. Group profit reached US$678 million, 23 percent up year on year. Adjusted EBITDA increased 22 percent year on year to US$1.23 billion, compared with the US$1.01 billion in the first half of last year. 

“If you look at visitor flows in Sands China’s property each year, we are quite healthy. There were 180,000 visitors a day in 2015, 200,000 visitors each day in 2016 and the number is increasing this year,” said Wong.

Sands China offers nearly 13,000 rooms (almost one third of Macao’s room inventory), 1.7 million square-feet of meeting space, over 850 shops and more than 140 dining options, all inter-connected by air-conditioned footbridges. Comparing all six gaming concessionaires, Sands China accounts for 45 percent of hotel rooms, 62 percent of total retail floor area, 60 percent of non-gaming revenue and 90 percent of MICE (meetings, incentives, conferencing, exhibitions) floor area.

Fierce rivals

Competition in the Macao gambling industry is fierce, according to Wong. They are focusing on improving their services by refurbishing hotels and casinos to improve customer experience and training employees. They have 28,000 employees at present. 

Wong said VIP business is critical to them but the gaming industry cannot rely entirely on VIP clientele so they are working on developing the mass-gaming sector as well. In the first half of this year Macao welcomed 15.6 million visitors. Mass-gaming and slot business represented 43.5 percent of market revenue.

Wong said: “The group’s business strategy is to continue to successfully execute our Cotai Strip developments and to leverage our integrated resort business model to create Asia’s premier gaming, leisure, convention and meetings destination.”

Wong is optimistic about Macao’s future development as a place with plenty of recreational facilities and as an ideal conference venue. He said construction and development of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge and roll-out of the Greater Bay Area project will also boost business in Macao. 

Looking elsewhere in Asia, Japan’s parliament approved the Integrated Resorts Promotion Bill in December last year. Wong confirmed the Las Vegas Sands group remained interested in investing in a casino resort in Japan. He thinks the legalization of casino gambling in Japan should not impact Macao in the short term as it will still take some years for casinos to open doors.

Transforming from civil servant into businessman

Wilfred Wong Ying-wai joined Sands China in November 2015 and has more than 40 years of extensive hands-on management and business development experience in property development and construction for a number of Hong Kong listed companies, including being chairman and chief executive of Hsin Chong Construction Group. 

Wong said he has three lives at once. He was also a member of the Hong Kong Basic Law Consultative Committee, member of the Preliminary Working Committee and subsequently the Preparatory Committee responsible for establishing the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. He was also elected as a member of the National People’s Congress for 15 years, from 1997 to 2012. He is currently chairman of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, deputy chairman of the Hong Kong Film Development Council and chairman of the Asian Film Awards Academy.

Wong is a graduate of the University of Hong Kong and obtained a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard University in the United States. He also attended Oxford University for post-graduate studies.

“I think life is about accepting challenges,” said Wong. Inspired by the speech of Deng Xiaoping during his trip to South China in 1992, Wong decided to do business in the Chinese mainland, having served in various different levels of the Hong Kong government for more than a decade.  

Wong thinks being a management person is to be a team captain and cheer leader. He said he needs to make decisions on employees’ promotion based on his observation and individuals are very important to the company so they hold an annual event to award employees who have been working for this company for more than 10 years to reward their contribution. 

Wong’s method to balance work and life is “doing what you like is the best balance”. For example he is a lover of film and the arts so he enjoys dinners and events when he serves as the chairman of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, deputy chairman of the Hong Kong Film Development Council and chairman of the Asian Film Awards Academy.

His advice to the young generation is “follow your heart”; following one’s heart is a thinking process which takes time. He said times have changed as many people stayed in one company for their lifetime in the old days but now people are chasing self-fulfillment and they have many choices. “But you will find your way after the struggling and thinking in your mind,” said Wong.

Contact the writer at tingduan@chinadailyhk.com

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