“It’s not so easy to attract foreign visitors because travel-wise Macau is not so convenient”

The G2E Asia gaming exhibition begins tomorrow and Josephine Lee, the Senior Vice President of Reed Exhibitions China, which organises the event, explained to Business Daily the main challenges facing the MICE industry in the territory. The event already has 5,000 pre-registrations, with a fifth of these first-timers. Participation is also expanding, with visitors coming from as far away as Europe, Africa and South America João Santos [email protected] Photography: Cheong Kam Ka G2E Asia starts tomorrow at a time that gaming revenue is declining in Macau. Do you expect the event to be affected by the so-called ‘new normal’? Not this year. Actually, we’re expecting more visitors in comparison to last year and the number of pre-registration visitors has increased 10 per cent. As of last week, we already had 5,000 pre-registrations, of which approximately 20 per cent are registrations from persons that have never been to G2E Asia. In fact, we were surprised to receive visitors from places such as Latin America, Europe and Africa. In bad times, and in spite of the tough challenges Europe is facing, these markets want to attract Chinese visitors and so they want to see how they can attract them. These factors have made G2E Asia a lot more attractive than in the past. The number of visitors at G2E Asia has been increasing in recent years. However, it isn’t easy to bring a concept created for the American market and reproduce it in Asia. What’s the secret of its success? The slogan of Reed Exhibitions focuses on the need to think globally but to act locally. This is one of the keys to the success of G2E Asia. It is an Asian platform that serves the Asian market. A lot of work is invested in understanding the needs of Asian gaming and entertainment. By understanding the market’s needs and the challenges that operators and professionals are facing, we are able to provide solutions and achieve success. What is the coverage of the gaming market in the current edition of the exhibition? At this moment, we cover 95 per cent of all the properties in Asia. G2E Asia has become a huge platform for the industry. Now, it’s very clear for exhibitors that if they want to launch and try a product in Asia, G2E Asia is the best place to do it. Also, for visitors it’s very cost effective because if you come to the event you’ll meet 95 per cent of the market and this is what convinces people to participate. At the same time, in G2E Asia people can understand what’s going on in the market, whether it is Cambodia or Australia. The coverage of the event in Macau is quite high. How does Reed Exhibition achieve such a rate? We need to understand how to attract operators in Asia to come to Macau. However, it’s not so easy to attract international visitors because travel-wise Macau is not so convenient as they first need to travel to Hong Kong. This requires us to establish a very attractive platform for them to consider worth spending their time [in traveling]. Concerning the operators, we segment them because different cities have different needs. For example, the operators of the emergent markets, such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos or Saipan, are looking for the opportunity to understand what’s going on in the larger markets. They need to learn with the big operators in Macau. Looking at the European and African operators, they’re after Asian tourists, mainly the Chinese because of their large spending power. If they attend an event in Europe or in the U.S. they won’t be able to find games that cater to the Chinese, Japanese or Koreans. But in G2E Asia you see all this content. Do you consider that the success of G2E Asia comes also from the fact that the Asian gaming market is growing? We’re riding on it. The exhibitions organisations have to rely on the market. If the market’s doing well everything is easier. However, I also think that even when the market’s not so good the platform becomes more important. When there are challenges you need a platform to understand your possibilities in order to face these challenges. G2E Asia is an opportunity to look for solutions and get inspired. There’s always a place for exhibitions in good and bad times. What are the main changes for this year’s G2E Asia in comparison with previous years? First of all, we’re expecting many new visitors from countries that have never come to G2E Asia before. We’re actually surprised to have visitors coming from Latin America and Africa. Secondly, there’s going to be a lot more non-gaming content. Of course, that core gaming content displayed is still the most important in G2E Asia but non-gaming content – related to information and technology (IT), food and beverage (F&B), and business solutions – is more and more important in supporting the gaming sector. There will be a lot of discussion about integrated resorts, which is a very popular term these days, and how they integrate gaming and non-gaming facilities. We’ve also invested in a pre-event online matching system. This system will generate reports for the participants and the moment they register they will receive a list of recommended visitors/exhibitors that match their interests. It’s almost like a speed-dating application. Do you believe the trend concerning non-gaming elements is restricted to Macau or is it being implemented in other casinos being developed in Asia? That is one of the key themes of the industry today. Many operators are putting considerable amounts of time into looking at how to get into this direction. This is the reason behind the decision to have a conference this year that will have a specific panel attended by integrated resorts specialists, from the Philippines, Singapore and from Macau. They will talk about what they have been doing in terms of developing integrated resorts. It’s not only about infrastructure but about the manpower and the different customers that are targeted. This is a whole set of aspects that gaming properties suddenly have to think about. How much is the budget for G2E Asia 2015 edition? I can’t reveal direct costs – but I can say we consider it a very large investment. The Macau Government is seeking to diversify its economy and the MICE sector is considered strategic. What should be done to cope with the competition from neighbouring regions like Hong Kong and Zhuhai? I’d like to know the answer to that question. If you look at the region, those cities with a lot of exhibitions activities primarily have a huge demand. Hong Kong developed its MICE business many years ago. But you can see that there aren’t a lot of many new exhibitions. They’re holding the traditional exhibitions. The booming MICE markets, such as Shanghai and even Shenzhen, are being driven by local demand. Exhibitors will only go where the buyers are. One of the challenges of Macau is a very small population and a relatively small market. This requires Macau to look at the region and try to attract more regional visitors to come to its events. I hope that by 2016, when the Hong Kong-Zhu­hai-Macau bridge is complete and the infrastructure a lot more mature that it will be a lot easier for buyers and exhibitors to come to Macau. Let me stress that we really need to attract a larger regional audience. Nevertheless, MICE events are highly subsidised by the government. The challenge for the industry is to be sustainable without this support. Do you believe the industry can? Eventually, just like any other industry. I believe that in the long term the industry will manage to be sustainable without such support. However, we welcome the Macau Government’s investment, and I believe it’s one of the wisest investments of the government. Do you expect the number of MICE events in Macau to remain the same, even if the subsidies are scrapped? In the beginning, the number of events will dip as the support is not there anymore. However, if there is enough market to support the MICE industry, any operator will be interested in coming to Macau and investing here. Concerning the new Cotai projects that begin opening this month, what are your expectations in relation to their effect on the MICE industry? These projects are very interesting for a lot of our international suppliers and exhibitors. There’s no other city the size of Macau in the world that has achieved such development. It is a miracle. I remember reading an article saying that 50,000 rooms are expected to be available by this year. It is really amazing considering the size of the city. The average room rates in Macau are among the most expensive in the region. Is this an issue for the MICE industry? Yes. I think that when the supply of rooms increases in the territory, it will help to relieve the costs pressure. However, it also depends upon the events that are held in Macau. If the exhibitions deliver good quality content and provide extra value the cost of the rooms might not be so much of a challenge. In fact, although the majority of hotels are still in the high end of the market, there is a balance in Macau. I also think that prices are reasonable. In the past there were conversations about the possibility of G2E Asia and Macau Gaming Show (MGS) merging their gaming exhibitions …? In life, never say never! At this moment, I really don’t know but anything’s possible. How would such a merger benefit the two exhibition organisers? I’m going to answer this as a hypothetical question and I’m not saying this will happen in the future. In the market, any corporation needs to build partnerships based on mutual benefits. If we can find ways that will benefit the two parties, like creating a stronger event, generating a better network… If we decide to merge there must be benefits for the two parties that will complement each other. Reed Exhibitions Reed Exhibitions is a company that organises approximately 500 events in 39 countries, including China, Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Russia and Brazil. The China division of the UK-based company has a total of 400 employees and organises around 60 events, including G2E Asia. Josephine Lee is Vice President for the China arm of Reed Exhibitions. G2E Asia G2E Asia is an international gaming trade show and conference focused on the Asian gaming industry. The event debuted in Macau in 2007 and it is co-organised by Reed Exhibitions and the American Gaming Association. In 2014, the event drew a record-breaking 8,233 visitors. It also includes 95% of Asia’s top casino and integrated resort operators in Asia and 160 exhibiting companies from China and abroad.