It took me long to write about my trip to Macau. Let us just say that I am still in shock of what I have seen there. This state of denial might last longer so what better way to recover but to spill the beans, right here, right now. Let the catharsis begin.
Macau is a special province of China, bestowed with autonomy in governance not seen in the mainland but almost similar with what Hong Kong enjoys. Macau was the first and last European colony in China. Portugal handed over Macau to the People’s Republic of China in 1999, with an understanding that Macau’s autonomy will be in full force for the next 50 years.
Macau has a total land area of 28.2 square kilometers, it is essentially urban; an area of land reclaimed from the sea measuring 5.2 sq km and known as Cotai now connects the islands of Coloane and Taipa; the island area is connected to the mainland peninsula by three bridges. Population is at 559,846 as of July 2009, unemployment rate of 3%, $0 external debt, and in 2008, it posted the highest GDP growth rate in the world at 15%. Macau is generally a service economy with 97.1% of its GDP comes from the services sector- hotels, restaurants, tourism, and gambling.
And gambling! Macau has a long history of gambling operations. In fact, it has been always said that it was the Macanese who first operated the gambling dens in the Philippines during 1970s. In year 2001, the Macau government opened up its gaming industry to foreign operators or licensees that also ended up the monopoly long enjoyed by the gambling tycoon Stanley Ho. By year 2006, gaming revenue in Macau surpassed that of Las Vegas. At the same year, 75% of total government revenue can be attributed to gaming-related business. If that was not fast track development, then what is it? Knowing all these will knock your socks off. Seeing all those things that happened and still happening in Macau, will get you into great depression.
How come Macau successfully transformed itself so fast, so right? How come our own version of Cotai Strip, the PAGCOR City, or Theme Park Manila or the Bagong Nayong Pilipino or its much-recent reincarnation, the Bagong Nayong Pilipino Manila Bay Integrated City is taking so much time to come into fruition? If urban legend is to be believed, the idea to develop an integrated resort-casino along the Manila Bay was first brought up way back in the 1990s.
Here’s the rub: by end of 2009, one of Singapore’s two integrated resort-casinos will start operating. By 2010, both Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World at Sentosa would become the most favored tourist destination in Asia. Believe it or not, the Singapore government only opened to the idea of hosting a casino-resort development some few years ago. In December 2004, it called for a request-for-concept and accepted 19 bids from industry players. Only two concepts were approved for implementation.
From a strategic perspective, Singapore’s opening will totally wipe out any first-in-the-industry advantage that Philippine casinos has so much enjoyed but has also taken for granted. A few years from now, Vietnam and Taiwan would be joining the ranks of Macau and Singapore in gaming-tourism development. Where will the Philippines be?