Investment News Analysis Tourism

Okada’s plan for one-stop tourism shop

Casino boss, Kazuo Okada, is seeking to vertically integrate his massive gaming resort, set to open its first phase at Entertainment City, Manila Bay, in November – Gamble in Manila – by getting into the international airport construction business. But he’s also looking to horizontally expand out across the Philippines with beach resorts, golf courses and other tourism-related projects.

Okada Manila – replacing Manila Bay Resorts as the new brand name of the Japanese billionaire’s hotel, casino, high-end retailing and resort complex at Entertainment City – far from being a one-off project, could become the launch pad for a nationwide chain of tourism amenities and resort destinations designed to propel the Philippine tourist industry into a new golden age.

The rationale behind the bidding for airport contracts is simple: bring the punters, the entertainment seekers, the holidaymakers and the golfers in through Okada-developed gateways, host them throughout their stay and fly them out.

It’s a twist on what casinos do around the world to keep their VIP, high-roller customers captive. The difference here is that the Okada plan is not exclusive; it’s universal. Its lure is not free flights and free accommodation as with VIP junket operations – though this element of international gambling will doubtless feature in Entertainment City as it does everywhere else around the world, not least in Macau where Okada cut his teeth on the Asian casino business.

The lure here is a seamless ease of passage from the traveller’s country of origin to the resort destination and back again. This is not about perks – though travel packages will undoubtedly be part of any future marketing of Okada products – it’s about convenience, leaving a lasting good impression and getting the trippers to return.

That may not sound like much to European tourists, for example, who have enjoyed that sort of travel since the 1950s when package-deal holidays took off as airports sprung up right across the continent with dedicated coach and rail links direct to the resorts. Right now, though, this is not the experience of foreign visitors to the Philippines. Okada knows it, the Department of Tourism knows it – A glimpse into Teo’s tourism strategy – travel operators know it and, most importantly, the overseas holidaying public knows it.

What Okada has in mind for his airports is to provide a good travel experience – clean, well-designed, orderly, efficient terminals with reliable transport connectivity to resorts – in short, the antithesis of what travellers to the Philippines experience today. His inspiration is omotenashi, the Japanese concept of gracious hospitality and detailed customer service.

The design and efficiency elements mirror the same thinking that the architects and engineers of Mactan-Cebu International Airport had when they drew up their plans – The World’s First Resort Airport

Now as the US$2.4 billion Phase I of Okada Manila prepares to throw the cloths off its gaming tables – total investment for the total project could reach US$4 billion; breakeven is projected at two years – Tiger Resorts Leisure and Entertainment Inc., the Philippine subsidiary of Okada’s Japan-base pachinko and slot-machine maker, Universal Entertainment Corporation, is looking around for other potential Philippine tourism sites. The island of Palawan, already a top Philippine destination, and Davao in Mindanao are already understood to be on a viability-study short list.

Earlier this week Okada, accompanied by local partner, Antonio Cojuangco, and Tiger Resorts COO, Takahiro Usui, paid a courtesy call on President Rodrigo Duterte, meeting him in the Music Room at Malacañang, the presidential palace. Also present were Executive Secretary, Salvador Medialdea, and Silvestre Bello III, Secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment.