In April 2018, Dr. Wilfred Wong, President and Executive Director of Macau casino operator Sands China Ltd. addressed a full house of British Business Association of Macao members and their guests at a business luncheon. The topic of his talk: “From Venetian, to Parisian to now The Londoner”.
Dr Wong revealed that in addition to the US$13 billion already spent by Sands China in Macau, a further investment of US$1.1 billion has been earmarked for the transformation of Sands Cotai Central into a London-themed façade, with London-themed retail and hotel facilities focused on attracting families.
“Last year, 2017, 33 million visitors came to Macau, and during the same period Sands China had 60 million visitors to our properties, so this means we receive multiple visits. As we’ve exhausted all our land allocation from the government, we took a look at our inventory, a total of 13,000 rooms, and asked ourselves what we could do to improve our assets to keep them fresh and to improve attractions to Macau.
A makeover to Sands Cotai Central was decided – but “should it be modernized to something like Pacific Place or IFC in Hong Kong, or should we choose a theme?”
Dr. Wong went on to say that “There are two schools of thought depending on whether you are with or without competitors. If the building stands alone, it can be built as an iconic landmark, much the same as Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, which has now become Singapore’s picture post card.” On the other hand, when one is amongst other properties all competing against each other as is the case on Cotai, a theme is needed to help differentiate. ‘The Londoner’ will provide another global city-themed resort in the vein of its sister properties, The Venetian Macao and Parisian Macao.
This has become the talk of the town amongst expats and locals alike, curious to know what attractions will be introduced.
“How can we represent London in the Sands Cotai Central? London is so diversified. What will not fail is to create the excitement of London – there is the West End, the food, the shopping. When I visit the city it seems that most restaurants have a Michelin star!”
“It’s got to be authentic, it’s a total experience, it’s not just the hardware but also the software so that guests feel like they are in London from the moment they step in. What do they want to see inside the building?” The modern London, or the traditional, ‘Queen’s London’? Adele or the Beetles? Covent Garden? Harry Potter? Perhaps a James Bond-esque Casino Royale? “Our designers are currently grappling to achieve the right balance with facilities that appeal to families.”
The Holiday Inn brand will be removed and the hotel will be converted to The Londoner. 300 super-luxury, 2-3 bed apartments at the back of St Regis will become Londoner apartments used for high end customers. In retail areas, the streets of London will be created, which its hoped will attract more British brands to Macau.
“We will have to intregrate across different product pillars for the one resort, in the marketing and in the leasing. Planning, marketing, branding, destination marketing, MISE, entertainment – all must fall within the theme”.
With the renovation scheduled to get underway before the end of this year, work should be complete in 2020 – around the same time the 20-year gaming licenses of fellow Macau concessionaires SJM and MGM expire. The licenses of Sands China, Galaxy Entertainment Group, Melco Resorts and Wynn Macau all expire in 2022 with re-licensing expected to involve a rigorous government review process.
With their license good for only another 4 years, isn’t Sands China concerned about committing such a huge additional expense for this project? “Life is full of risks”, Dr. Wong replies. “We are confident in the future in ourselves and in Macau.” On the contrary, it is anticipated that ‘The Londoner’ will aid their cause in the process of being issued a new gaming license. “As operators and concessionaires we want to show our commitment and sincerity. Our investment is a vote of confidence in Macau and our commitment to Macau,” explained Dr. Wong.
Dr Wong joined Sands China in November 2015. He has an impressive resume; 40 years of management and business development in the property and construction sectors in Hong Kong, a member of the Hong Kong Basic Law Consultative Committee, a member of the Preparatory Committee responsible for establishing the Hong Kong SAR. For 15 years, from 1997 to 2012, he was also elected a member of the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China. An ardent lover of the arts, he is currently chairman of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council. He obtained a Masters degree in Public Administration from Harvard.