[SEOUL] Incheon Airport, the gateway to Seoul, is planning a tourism project to emulate Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore that aims to lure Chinese with a new casino, shopping mall and hotels.
The project may cost 5 trillion won (US$4.6 billion) to 6 trillion won, Lim Byung Kee, an official at Incheon International Airport Corp, said in a phone interview. The airport is looking to receive proposals to build the facilities and sign deals this year, he said Feb 9.
"We have benchmarked Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore for the integrated resort project here," Mr Lim said. "We want to attract more visitors from China, taking advantage of the close distance." Incheon Airport, about two hours by plane from Shanghai or Beijing, is competing with Singapore and the Philippines to woo China's growing middle classes. It also hopes to draw gamblers who have helped make Macau the world's largest casino hub and who are now looking for alternative gaming markets as China's anti-graft campaign drives away bettors.
If all goes as planned, the Incheon Airport project could be ready by 2019, said Mr Lim, executive director of the airport's city development division. The casino will only allow foreigners; only one casino in Korea is currently open to locals.
South Korea's government expects to draw 10 million Chinese visitors a year by 2020, up from 6.13 million last year, according to data from Korea Tourism Organization. The country has allowed construction of two more integrated resorts this year to attract tourists even as Japanese lawmakers are trying to legalize casinos and new venues are opening in the Philippines.
Resorts World Sentosa, the Singapore gambling resort run by Genting Singapore Plc, has a convention center, hotels and the Universal Studios theme park. A second casino, Marina Bay Sands, is in the city's Marina Bay area. Together, the two projects opened in 2010 have helped attract more tourists to the city state.
The integrated resort at Incheon will be developed on 809 acres of empty land near the construction site for a second passenger terminal, Lim said. Local and overseas companies have expressed interest in investing in the project, he said, without naming them.
"It will be very important to make integrated resorts into attractive landmarks to bring in tourists, like what was done in Singapore," said Song Hak Jun, a professor in the hotel and convention management department at Pai Chai University in Daejon, South Korea. "It can't just be about casinos." Three integrated resorts are being built near the airport near Seoul. The Incheon project, which will be built on a man- made island 52 kilometers (32 miles) from the capital, would be the fourth resort. Opened in 2001, Incheon was the world's top airport by sales at duty-free shops last year.
Last March, a venture between Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment Corp. and Lippo Ltd won approval to build South Korea's first foreign-owned casino near Incheon. Separately, Sega Sammy Holdings Inc. and Paradise Co will open an integrated resort in 2017, Lim said. Paradise shares climbed as much as 2.7 percent before trading at 1 per cent higher as of 9.40 am in Seoul trading today.
"The government wants to build a cluster of integrated resorts near the airport that will resemble Macau," Lim said. "There are some operators in Macau that seem to be interested in investing in Incheon because of the growth limitations." Macau casinos have seen a sharp decline in play by high rollers in recent months. China last week started a crackdown to stop foreign casinos from luring its citizens to gamble overseas, as the government extends its campaign against corruption.
"We don't want to just focus on high rollers, but we also want mass consumers to visit the integrated resort," Lim said. "We want to use the resort to help create more traffic into the airport."