Saturday, 30 April 2011

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

I just got back from a short stay in Macau and it changes a lot every time I go. The next hotel complex to open will be Galaxy, a massive white and gold castle-like building across from The Venetian and will include the Banyan Tree Macau. Sounds like an oxymoron having one of the best known chill-out resorts to plonk itself right in the midst of the casino frenzy, but it promises to be a total escape from the chaos. We'll have to see.

During my visit there I heard the casinos and hotels have been busy since Chinese New Year; March is usually a slow month, but apparently it's been pretty much non stop... thanks mostly to mainlanders who are flush with cash that comes from who knows where.

The casinos while not packed were busy, particularly on the tables and on the slots. Some casinos like The Venetian had non-smoking sections but that didn't deter gamblers from lighting up. Thankfully there will be a new regulation in place in the next few months banning smoking in restaurants. The eventual ban of indoor smoking in Macau is going to be incremental but will happen eventually thankfully. I've seen cigarette butts stamped out everywhere instead of in an ashtray where they belong. But it's hard to tell off a customer when he's always right...

Meanwhile as Macau keeps developing casinos and hotels, there isn't enough infrastructure or staff to service everything. For starters the issue of not enough taxis has not been dealt with. A friend of mine tried to get a taxi back to the ferry terminal from Grand Lisboa earlier this week. While it's a short taxi ride, it's a very long walk. She got into the car, told the driver where she wanted to go and he angrily told her to get out. Hardly welcoming, isn't it?

Then there is the staff at all these hotels. The Macau government has made it very difficult for these top casinos and resorts to hire foreign staff in order to protect local employment. There are more than enough jobs for everyone in Macau, but service is hardly world class. At one of the top hotels in the city I attended a function held by Mercedes-Benz. Hotel catering staff wandered among the guests, presenting them hors d'oeuvres, both savoury and sweet. They also handed out refreshments from orange juice to wine. I asked one for a napkin and she looked at me strangely. I had to explain, you know, to wipe your mouth with? Not very bright.

My friend who now commutes to Macau from Hong Kong daily tells me she is the first person in the office at 10am when the rest of the staff stumble in at around 10:30am. Then they go for lunch at noon and don't come back until 2:30, 2:45pm, and then leave for the day at 6pm. "When do they get any work done?" I asked. "They don't," she replied.

It seems everyone in Macau has inflated salaries because of the labour shortages and as a result they have become complacent knowing they will have no problem getting a job. And because of that attitude quality has completely fallen by the wayside, making it near impossible for the top hotels to effectively compete with each other giving customers the best service possible.

It's a strange situation given that it's only an hour away from Hong Kong; but it's also only an hour away from China too. I remarked to my friend that at least Macau is somewhat manageable -- multiply the Macau situation over several hundred times and you have China.

Now that is a tall order.

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