Hengqin Island Family Attraction Launches Across from Macau Gambling Hub

Posted on: September 12, 2019, 11:30h. 

Last updated on: September 18, 2019, 06:48h.

A National Geographic child-focused entertainment site launched this week on Hengqin Island’s Novotown district, about five miles from Macau. US gaming experts disagree on whether the Chinese initiative will succeed, given the region’s gambling focus.

Larry Leung, managing director of Novotown, located on China’s Hengqin Island, stands by a construction site last year. A National Geographic family venue launched there this week. (Image: South China Morning Post)

National Geographic Ultimate Explorer Hengqin is 14,764 square feet and features 15 attractions targeted to six to 12 years olds and their relatives. The exhibits relate to science, the environment, and outer space.

The site is operated through a license via National Geographic Partners, which is a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company and the National Geographic Society.

Novotown, a tourist site for non-gamblers, already includes Lionsgate Entertainment World, which is based on popular films. Additional non-gambling-focused offerings could open in the future.

Hengqin, located west of Macau, is three times the size of the famed gaming enclave. It is connected to Cotai by the six-lane Lotus Bridge.

“By positioning Hengqin as the epicenter of family-friendly fun, we are providing travelers with more choices than ever, while also helping to foster the continued diversification of Macau’s economy,” Gu Guangxin, deputy director of the Administrative Committee of Hengqin New Area, said at the venue launch, GGRAsia reported.

“[The] opening will add a bright pearl to Hengqin’s leisure tourism industry, and will also promote Hengqin to attract more … family tours,” Guangxin added. “Passengers and the Macau tourism industry have formed a multi-faceted complementary situation, extending the stay time of passengers in Macau and Hengqin.”

Similar Effort Backfired in Las Vegas

When asked for comments, Jack Salem, fixed-term faculty member at the School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University, told Casino.org that Las Vegas “many years ago, tried this at many of their casinos, and it was not profitable.

“Las Vegas wanted to make the casinos and the city a family destination. Gaming revenues dropped. Why?” he asked.

Gamblers started to bring their children to Las Vegas and instead of spending most of their time gambling — and losing their money — they now had to spend much of the time with their children outside the casino at the non-gaming activities,” he explained. “Children and casinos do not mix when we are talking about gaming revenues.”

After a couple of years, Las Vegas casinos — which had been built and branded “as family destinations — finally ditched this marketing program,” he said. They returned to a “casinos are for gamblers” approach, he added.

Still, Salem points out that the “old saying” in casinos many years ago was “everything is an amenity to the casino. If Novotown and Macau adopt this business practice, it might be a winner,” Salem speculated. Macau is known as a destination for high rollers and they comp their players.

“And since Novotown is not part of any casino, I believe it will be a winner, especially if they work a deal with the casinos in Macau to comp their players and families to attend their non-gaming attractions,” he added.

Still, for family-friendly attractions to succeed, they need to be separate from the casinos, he said.

Novotown Could Bring More Tourists to Macau

Sheryl Kimes, emeritus professor of operations management at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, points out that, “Having a family-oriented zone might attract additional tourists to Macau, since people might be more inclined to bring their families.

“And, if the family-oriented activities were interesting enough, perhaps even non-gambling families might come,” Kimes told Casino.org. She does not “necessarily see it” as something that indicates the gambling market in the Macau region is saturated.

I see it as an attempt to diversify the market base,” Kimes explained. “In my opinion, this is a smart strategic move on their part.”

To make such family-focused attractions succeed, she said they need be “fun and family-friendly.  And, if they want to cross-sell this with the casinos, make it easy for people to get back and forth.

“Another thing that can help is to provide kid-friendly activities and supervision so that the parents can go to the casinos if they like without having to worry about their children’s well-being,” Kimes added.