Destination Cotai

Written by Ben Blaschke

This article first appeared in the May 2017 issue of WGM.

Macau’s dream of creating an entertainment hub to rival the famous Las Vegas Strip is finally nearing completion.

A decade ago it was little more than swampland and mud. Now it stands as a shining beacon to just how far Macau has come in the past 10 years.

The Cotai Strip is Macau’s answer to Las Vegas – a 1.6km length of road flanked on both sides by the city’s newest and most spectacular integrated resorts. Originally dubbed “The Cotai Strip” by Sands China Ltd – which opened the area’s first major resort, The Venetian, in 2007 and operates four properties along its route – this fascinating stretch has evolved into Macau’s most impressive showpiece.

“Cotai Strip, on the exterior, is similar to Las Vegas,” offers casino and integrated resort expert Dr Glenn McCartney, an Associate Professor at the University of Macau.

“We now have the first cross over bridge from Venetian to Sands Cotai Central and from Four Seasons to Parisian, so there is some level of connectivity even though it might be within the same property. I would look forward to this connectivity and access spreading throughout as in Las Vegas.”

Studio City

Cotai is a unique place in its own right. Measuring 5.2 square kilometers, it is the brainchild of Las Vegas Sands Corp Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson, who proposed creating a tourism and entertainment hub similar to that seen in the United States’ famous gaming city.

But with Macau already among the most densely populated places on the planet, the only viable solution was to reclaim land that didn’t currently exist. As a result, in 2004, the previously empty area between Taipa to the north and Coloane to the south was “filled in” and one of the biggest steps towards creation of the Cotai Strip completed.

Impressed by what he saw, Adelson stated at the time, “Cotai Strip Macau is destined to become Asia’s Las Vegas. By assembling a critical mass of world-class hotel brands, this development will reposition Macau as an international tourist and convention and exhibition attraction.

“Thanks to the efforts of the assembled group of worldrenowned hotel brands and regional and local investors, and especially the Macau government, the vision of the Cotai Strip is clearly taking shape.”

It is only now however – after a decade of major construction along the length of the Strip – that this vision has finally been realized with the opening of two of Cotai’s most significant integrated resorts, Wynn Palace and The Parisian, in late 2016.

The total number of fully operational resorts in Cotai is now nine – the drive from one end of the Cotai Strip to the other takes in City of Dreams and Sands Cotai Central on the east and Venetian, Parisian, the Plaza and Studio City on the west. The grandeur of Wynn Palace is just a few hundred meters further away on the east, with the architectural splendor of Galaxy Macau and Broadway similarly positioned on the west. MGM Cotai, wedged between Wynn Palace and Sand Cotai Central, is due to open its doors later this year. And then there is Altira located in Taipa just 1 kilometer to the north.

“The emphasis with Macau’s Cotai Strip is certainly more on where do you stay – there is now a huge offering of globally well-known luxury branded hotels which are very apparent with large logos on their sides,” says McCartney.

The Venetian Macao

“And the Chinese emphasis on food means that the Cotai Strip’s food offering certainly is broad covering many regions in China and Asia, as well as several price points from the noodle shop to more luxury dining.

“There is also the retail side and the Cotai Strip is now having to adapt to the growth of mass, meaning more street brands available.

“The family traveler is getting more attention with City of Dreams, Galaxy, Venetian, Studio City, Parisian and SCC all having play facilities and clubs for children.”

There is still some way to go. Due to a range of delays that have afflicted most properties before opening in recent years, both MGM Cotai and SJM’s spectacular Lisboa Palace are yet to launch. Likewise, the long-awaited light rail, that will provide an efficient transport link down the Cotai Strip and beyond, won’t be operational until 2019.

But with nine resorts and counting, around 20,000 hotel rooms and world-class shopping and dining, the ambitious Cotai Strip dream is finally becoming a reality.