We are underdog no more, William Weidner tells Yeoh Siew Hoon.
You could smell the victory in the air. Looking like the cats that got the cream – and more besides – were William Weidner, president and chief operating officer, and his team from Las Vegas Sands Corporation, all assembled in the room to show the might of the company that won the race to build the Singapore Integrated Resort at Marina Bay.
Next to him and looking every inch the proud father – or godfather – was Kwek Leng Beng, chairman of City Developments Limited, who threw his weight behind Sands "because I believe in Sheldon (Adelson) and Bill".
The Sands folks had called a press conference to celebrate their triumph and to show that they mean business. The room was packed. One journalist said, "Wow, this is even bigger than the World Cup.
" Kicking off the press conference, Weidner declared, "We are back as Singaporeans and we are here to get to work. Don't get me wrong. We are living on adrenalin because of the delight of being selected but now our team is ready to work to change the vision into reality."
On the ground to oversee the development are Bradley Stone, executive vice president of LSVC, and Matthew Pryor, vice president of construction, based in Macau.
"We want to get on the site as quick as we can," said Weidner, adding the goal was to open everything in 2009. "We have one chance to make that first impression."
For Weidner, the Singapore victory is particularly sweet. "It represents a validation of our business model and professional ability to deliver a true Integrated Resort."
And he relates this anecdote. "I was playing golf the other day when an old friend in Las Vegas called me and said, hey, you guys are the underdog (in Singapore). You are up against the two biggest names, MGM and Harrah's. I asked him, when will we stop being the underdog? "When we won in Macau, people said we were lucky. When we won here, people said we were the underdog. I guess this means we are underdog no more."
Sands has committed S$3.85 billion to build The Marina Bay Sands. Together with land costs, the bill should come up to more than S$5 billion, making it one of the most expensive casino resorts ever built.
Weidner is confident about raising the capital. "We already have $6 billion committed to us. It's there. What we haven't yet decided is how we structure the financing."
While Sands' win may have surprised some analysts, it did not Kwek. Although he said at the press conference that he was "shocked" by news of Sands' win because of persistent rumours that it wasn't the favourite, "I had the vision and confidence that Sands would get it". "I won the bet," he laughed.
The chairman of Millennium & Copthorne Hotels also stated that he was not hoping to run any of the three hotels.
"I think they are more efficiently run by casino operators but if Sands wants us to work with them, we will just have to see".
In its selection of Sands, the Ministerial Committee which evaluated the four proposals cited the company's MICE expertise, its wide range of leisure products (two 2,000-seat theatres, an ArtScience museum, luxury retail outlets, and unique dining venues such as the floating pavilions), its unique design which "will provide a memorable image and destination attraction for Marina Bay", and unique features such as the Sky Park above the hotel towers.
Architect Moshie Safdie said his vision was to create a design that resonated with Singapore. Seeing Singapore as "a city which is a garden", he created a park the size of an aircraft carrier, which sits on top of the hotel towers.
He integrated greenery throughout the design with plenty of open spaces for people to move about and to gather around. "We believe the hotel towers and the ArtScience Museum will become the future icons of Singapore," said Weidner.
The Marina Bay Sands will have 1.2 million square feet of flexible MICE space. Weidner said Sands would reposition Singapore into a world MICE capital by tripling or quadrupling MICE visitor arrivals.
MICE is expected to contribute 40-45 percent of room nights. Gaming should account for18-20 percent of room nights.
Weidner said by year three, China should be a primary source of visitors to the Marina Bay Sands. In Sands Macau, high rollers from China already contribute up to 40 percent of the casino's revenues.
The three hotel towers will offer a total of 2,500 rooms and will be managed by Sands.
Sands estimates that the total employment impact of the IR would amount to over 30,000 jobs by 2015 of which about 10,400 would be at the Marina Bay Sands.
It is also promising to fill 75 percent of the jobs with Singaporeans, including key management positions. Part of its commitment involves reskilling the older workforce.
Weidner is confident the resort will face no shortage of willing candidates.
In Macau, when LSVC advertised 4,000 jobs, it had 60,000 applications. In Las Vegas, when it wanted to fill 4,500 jobs, it had 100,000 applications.
"This is going to be an interesting building and people will want to work in it," he said.
By 2010, the total economic impact of The Marina Bay Sands will amount to approximately one percent of Singapore's GDP.
As for how long it would take Sands to recoup its investment in Singapore, he estimated "five to eight years".
Gaining a foothold in Singapore will not mean that Sands, which has relationships in Japan and Thailand, will stop its expansion plans in Asia. "We have to be in a position to react as opportunities come. Singapore was an example of that. We had no idea that Singapore would make this decision and when it did, we knew it was a historic opportunity. We would never be too busy or too engaged to reject good opportunities."
Weidner made it clear that rumours of cannibalization were overly- exaggerated.
"Las Vegas had the monopoly on gaming till 1978. People then predicted the death of Las Vegas and said there would be cannibalization.
Today, there are 30-odd casinos in the US and Las Vegas is the strongest it's ever been. "The reality is the more destinations that have casino attractions, the more reasons for people to travel to the region.
If we integrate this resort right, it will stand against any cannibalization." The SHY Report
A regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry by one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, Yeoh Siew Hoon. Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her company's mission is "Content, Communication, Connection". She is a writer, speaker, facilitator, trainer and events producer. She is also an author, having published "Around Asia In 1 Hr: Tales of Condoms, Chillies & Curries". Her motto is ‘free to do, and be'.
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