IR2.0 Concept

One of two companies to respond to Wakayama’s RFP assessment call in April, Suncity Group has grand plans for a Japanese integrated resort with its IR2.0 concept.

It was August 2019 when Suncity Group first unveiled its concept for an integrated resort in the Japanese prefecture of Wakayama, located on the southernmost point of the Kansai region’s Honshū island.

The announcement was notable as a clear statement of intent from Suncity – traditionally known as a VIP promotor and provider of luxury entertainment services – that it was also determined to position itself among Asia’s most prominent IR operators. Although already deep into development of its first IR, Hoiana in Vietnam, and having recently become the largest shareholder in Summit Ascent Holdings – owner/operator of Tigre de Cristal casino-resort in Vladivostok, Russia – Suncity’s Wakayama plan exhibited a clear model of how the company plans to differentiate itself from the competition.

It is with this in mind that Suncity, via its Japanese entity, Suncity Group Holdings Japan Co Ltd, has devised a concept it calls IR2.0.

“Unlike other competitors, what we focus on is not what we can bring to Japan, but to present Japan to the world – hence the IR2.0 concept,” the company tells IAG.

“We intend to build a world-first IR2.0 that focuses on the characteristics of Wakayama and brings together all the historical traditions, natural landscapes and culture of the region, which are different from the traditional IR model.

“IR2.0 is not about what the operator is willing to offer to the market, but rather to focus on the local culture, presenting the features and advantages of the location to the world.

“Wakayama has unique natural resources, rich cultural, historical and traditional features. Suncity Group has expanded its business to 26 cities in 16 countries. It has deep research and understanding of IRs in various countries.

“We are very confident that we can utilize our own resources, networks, advantages and experience in resort management and show the world a diversified Wakayama.”

One of only two companies to respond to Wakayama’s RFP assessment call before the 30 April 2020 deadline, Suncity explains that the design of its Wakayama IR2.0 is based around three concepts closely linked to the region – “castle” which references Wakayama Castle, “garden” which imitates Rikugi-en Garden to reproduce the Wakayama Domain scenery in Man’yōshū poetry – the oldest collection of “waka” poetry in Japan – and “port” due to the IR candidate location of Marina City. The idea, Suncity says, is to revive the area as an important port of some of Japan’s Five Routes that connected Tokyo with the outer provinces during the Edo period from 1603 to 1868.

If developed, Suncity’s Wakayama complex would offer 2,600 rooms and villas, restaurants and a sky lounge, hot springs and spas, a substantial exhibition venue, indoor sports facilities and boat tours to nearby coastal towns and tourist attractions.

The group announced last October a budget of HK$30 billion to HK$35 billion (US$3.87 billion to US$4.52 billion) for its IR, which has been designed by international architecture firm, AEDAS Architects.

“Other competitors are replicating what they’ve done before,” Suncity explains. “We’re not just building an IR but combining entertainment and Japanese culture.

“In addition to building a complete range of hardware facilities, Suncity Group will turn Wakayama into a complex of modern entertainment and traditional culture.

“We want to combine our extensive experience in film production, large-scale concerts and iconic arts events in Macau and bring these to Wakayama to integrate with the local traditional characteristics.

“We plan to hold various entertainment events and performance exhibitions in Wakayama to reshape, revitalize and deepen the cultural flavor and present the unique charm of Wakayama on the international stage.”

Suncity Group CEO Alvin Chau told Inside Asian Gaming last year that he expects Yokohama, Osaka and Wakayama to win the three licenses set to be awarded following Japan’s first round of bidding in 2021. With MGM looking increasingly likely to partner with Osaka and Macau’s established operators set to slug it out in Yokohama, Wakayama emerged as an attractive choice for Suncity’s growing ambitions.

In particular, the company sees Wakayama’s location – around 45-minutes by car from Kansai International Airport and an hour from Osaka itself – as a unique selling point.

“With Wakayama as a hub for cultural performance and entertainment, and Osaka as a city with a wide range of facilities and support for conventions and exhibitions, the two cities can serve as a key driving force in the development of the entire Kansai region,” it says.

Chau refers to this as “The Greater Kansai Synergy.” Suncity estimates a Wakayama IR would generate annual tax revenue of around JPY 50 billion and employ up to 20,000 people through construction and operations. The group has promised to work with local SMEs in procuring resources and says it can drive increased visitation from East Asian travelers – the lifeblood of Japan’s tourism industry – due to its well-established high-end membership base.

“We fully grasp the preferences and consumption patterns of East Asian travelers and can provide them with appropriate products and services,” Suncity says.

“Our subsidiary company ‘Sun Travel’ can also cooperate with surrounding areas to create unique, high-end tourism products focusing on Wakayama and promote them through our sales platform to drive regional development.”

In the meantime, Suncity isn’t waiting around to learn its Wakayama fate. Last September the group purchased a 51% stake in MSRD Corporation Limited, a local firm whose principal asset is a 108,799 square-meter plot of land in Okinawa.

Currently comprising fields, farmland and public roads, the land will eventually become Miyako Islands Resort Hotel, due to open in 2023 featuring 100 hotel rooms and 40 villas each with their own individual pools. Located nearby Japan’s Miyako Islands – famed for their sandy white beaches and coral reefs – the development is designed to complement Suncity’s Wakayama IR by “enhancing customer stickiness.”

“We’re open to any potential opportunities to further develop our business in Japan,” Suncity explains, making it clear that Japan is now very much a key focus of the company’s long-term expansion endeavors.