Versace CEO - Macau Hotel Tweaked for China Appeal

gamblingKelvin Chan, The Associated Press, August 5, 2013

MACAU (AP) — Italian fashion house Versace and Macau casino company SJM say the Versace-themed hotel they're planning for the Asian gambling city will be tweaked to appeal to the local Chinese market and open in 2017.

Gianni Versace SpA CEO Gian Giacomo Ferraris said Thursday that the five-star Palazzo Versace would retain the "neoclassical style" found at its other two hotels, in Australia and Dubai. But he added, "clearly there will be some fine tuning with the local culture."

He declined to give more details, saying designer Donatella Versace would be responsible for the design. The luxury brand, known for its Medusa-head logo and over-the-top style of its clothes, is already popular with China's growing pool of affluent consumers.

Versace and SJM Holdings Ltd. signed a deal last month to build the hotel at SJM's Cotai resort in Macau, a former Portuguese colony turned semiautonomous Chinese region that's the world's most lucrative gambling market.

SJM Chairman Ambrose So said the resort would open in 2017 and is expected to cost about 2.5 billion Hong Kong dollars ($322 million). Versace's hotel will be one of several at the resort. It will have 270 of the resort's 2,000 hotel rooms and some of its 700 gambling tables, So said, without being more specific. The Versace hotel will also feature a restaurant, swimming pools and shops.

So and Ferraris declined to give any details on the hotel's cost.

The project gives Versace a new way to raise its profile with mainland Chinese, who account for two-thirds of the more than 28 million visitors to Macau each year. It also gives SJM a big-name luxury brand popular to help keep up with rivals who have a head start on expanding in the Cotai Strip, Asia's version of the Las Vegas Strip.

"We have been looking at greater China for a while as this is one of the priority markets for the entire Versace business," said Ferraris. Versace has outlets in two Macau casinos, which Ferraris said are among the "best performing stores" globally. It also has numerous stores in mainland China.

Macau raked in $38 billion in gambling revenue last year, about six times the amount on the Las Vegas Strip, powered by high-rolling Chinese gamblers.

SJM, founded by billionaire tycoon Stanley Ho, is the long time market leader in Macau's casino industry but its lead is slipping as competitors such as Las Vegas Sands Corp. expand rapidly in the Cotai Strip. Macau's six casino companies, which also include Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts International, are all planning major projects expected to open starting mid-2015 in Cotai, a patch of reclaimed swampland earmarked for all future expansion. SJM was one of the last casino operators to get approval for its Cotai project.

SJM Managing Director Angela Leong, one of Ho's four wives and a fan of the Versace brand, said the idea for a hotel in Macau first came to her in 2003. That's when Ho and their family stayed at the Palazzo Versace in Australia's Gold Coast to escape from the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome that killed hundreds, most of them in nearby Hong Kong.

"We saw the Versace hotel was a beautiful, elegant, world-class hotel," she told reporters at a signing ceremony with Donatella Versace. "I thought it was 100 percent worth it to have such a hotel in Macau."