Thứ Tư, 4 tháng 6, 2014

Hippie Town Seen as New Macau With World"s Biggest Hotel

Cairns was once a stop on the hippie

trail and is now a popular destination for backpackers and

diving enthusiasts. By 2019, Tony Fung predicts it’ll be a

gambling destination to rival Macau.

The Hong Kong property developer last week won early-stage

government backing for his plans to build an A$8.15 billion

($7.6 billion) casino resort on a former sugarcane farm north of

the town. With 7,500 hotel rooms scattered around an artificial

lagoon, 18-hole golf course and water park, it’ll nearly triple

the region’s hotel accommodation and be bigger than Singapore’s

two casino resorts put together.

“We are extremely confident that Cairns can be a global

destination,” Justin Fung, Tony’s son and chief executive

officer of development company Aquis Resort at the Great Barrier

Reef Pty., said in a May 28 phone interview. “This is the

closest western city to China,” he said of the tropical

Australian city where the brother of former U.S. presidential

candidate Howard Dean dropped out in the early 1970s.

Investors locked out of Macau, which has licensed just six

casino operators to tap its $45 billion gambling market, are

looking to build new resorts from Sri Lanka to South Korea, the

Philippines to Japan, as China becomes the world’s biggest

source of outbound tourist revenue.

Australia’s Queensland state, hit by falling coal prices

that will help drive a A$324 million decline in government

mining royalties by June 2017, plans to issue three new casino

licenses to lure Asian gamblers and stimulate job growth.

Singapore Model

Proposed developments in Cairns, Brisbane and the Gold

Coast could bring the same benefits that Genting Singapore Plc (GENS)’s

Resorts World Sentosa and Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVS:US)’s Marina Bay

Sands brought to Singapore, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman

said last October. The hotels helped fuel a 20 percent jump in

tourist numbers to the city-state after they opened in 2010, he


“Everyone’s seen the success of Singapore, which is just

being used as a blueprint elsewhere,” Killian Murphy, an

analyst at CIMB Group Holdings Bhd., said by phone from Sydney.

“Potentially Australia as a whole becomes a better sell into

the Chinese market” if it has more resorts for tourists to

choose from.

Chinese travelers overtook those from Germany in 2012 to

become the world’s largest source of outbound tourist revenue,

with spending on overseas trips rising 26 percent during 2013 to

$129 billion, according to the United Nations World Tourism


Natural Setting

Cairns, where the existing Reef Casino Trust (RCT) posted just

A$24 million in revenue last year, is well placed to exploit

that market, said Fung. Another Fung family company has already

bought about 77 percent of the city’s only casino operator as

part of a A$214 million takeover.

“We’re sitting on the doorstep of the Great Barrier

Reef,” he said. “As the Chinese middle-class and wealthy

travel, one of the first things they’re going to embrace is the

natural environment. Cairns has that in spades.”

Floods, tornadoes, a strong Australian dollar and the rise

of competing markets in Asia have stymied growth at some resorts

along the Great Barrier Reef.

Properties on Dunk and Bedarra islands, for example, sold

in late 2011 for about 15 percent and 20 percent of their 2007

values respectively. Chinese-Australian billionaire William Han

paid A$12 million for Lindeman Island in 2012, a 10th of what

Club Mediterranee SA had spent to buy and expand it in the early


Man-Eating Crocodiles

Sandwiched between the volcanic Atherton Tablelands and the

lagoon of the barrier reef and fringed by mangrove swamps

populated by man-eating crocodiles, Cairns has attracted Chinese

visitors since gold prospectors flocked to the region in the


It’s grown into a tourist spot and jumping-off point for

visits to the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral

system, “a perfect place to meet other travelers” whose

downtown is “more board shorts than briefcases,” according to

the Lonely Planet tourist guide. It’s home to more than 10

scuba-diving schools and 40 backpacker hostels.

Not everyone welcomes the proposed development.

“It’s horrific,” said Gayle Hannah, who came to the

region as an 18-year-old in 1971. “Most likely it’s going to

sit there and moulder and just be a headache.”

Hannah lived on communes in the hills behind Cairns in the

early 1970s, where “people had the good old peace, love and

brown rice philosophy,” she said. She became friends with

Howard Dean’s younger brother Charlie while working on a organic

farm in the region set up by three other Americans, “Ivy

Leaguers who’d left because of Kent State and Vietnam.”

Dean’s Fate

The younger Dean later traveled to Laos where he was

captured and executed in 1974 by guerrillas. His remains were

discovered and repatriated in 2003, when the former Vermont

governor was running for the Democratic presidential candidacy

ultimately won by John Kerry.

Building such a big resort in the region is “crazy,” she

said. “The Asian market is looking for the things we already

have — the reef, rainforest, quiet, birds, good food,” she


The 343-hectare (848-acre) site for the Aquis resort will

include two theaters, a convention center, a sports stadium, a

water park, and an aquarium, as well as shops, restaurants, and

1,800 homes for staff, according to a July 2013 proposal to the


Hotel Demand

With eight hotels including 7,500 rooms once complete, it

will be as large as Moscow’s Izmailovo Hotel Complex, the

world’s biggest, and surpass the 5,044-room MGM Grand in Las


“I see more luxury projects creating a gaming destination

for the Asian market,” Fung said. “If you can create enough

quality product, then certainly the demand is there.”

The Fung family have spoken to financial institutions about

funding the resort and haven’t yet committed to any, he said. He

didn’t name any partners for the project.

Queensland may struggle to digest such a sharp increase in

gambling tourism, said CIMB’s Murphy.

“I just think three new integrated resorts is stretching

it,” he said. “Trying to convince a gambler to come here can

be difficult. You’re talking a nine- or ten-hour flight” from

cities in China.

The entire Tropical North Queensland region including the

city only contained 3,892 hotel rooms in June 2013, according to

government data. Those hotels had occupancy rates of 68 percent

in the year and average room rates of A$143 a night, about 25

percent below the national average, separate data show.

That’s not deterring Hong Kong-based Fung. The right

facilities can attract visitors in numbers like those who’ve

been lured by other casino resorts in the region, he said.

“We’re on the doorstep of Macau and we’ve seen the

incredible growth of that market. We’re close to Singapore and

we’ve seen what just two properties there are capable of

doing,” he said. “There is that aspect of ‘If you build it,

they will come’.”

To contact the reporter on this story:

David Fickling in Sydney at

To contact the editors responsible for this story:

Stephanie Wong at

Dave McCombs

Hippie Town Seen as New Macau With World"s Biggest Hotel

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