‘If you think big,’’ says the tag line for the 1,000-acre Baha Mar resort about to break ground in the Bahamas, ‘‘think bigger.’’ Sound ridiculous in a recession? It’s more of a harbinger than you’d imagine, at least in the travel world: led by Las Vegas’s CityCenter and the Marina Bay Sands Singapore, a new wave of mega-scale complexes that were conceived during the boom have recently opened their doors, with several more in development, from the Alps to Abu Dhabi. ‘‘I think it’s the future,’’ says Andy Cohen, executive director of the architecture firm Gensler, which worked on CityCenter and has a similar mixed-use project brewing in Shanghai. ‘‘Whether it’s sports, entertainment or retail, the ability to have all that variety in one place is key. People want choice.’’
In flush times, developers with access to cheap capital realized the power of the grand gesture to lure travelers, even to remote areas. They could create entire destinations from scratch, usually with the support of local governments, then profit from the outsize buzz. ‘‘It’s a model that started 15 years ago in Vegas and Macao,’’ says David Scowsill, president of the World Travel and Tourism Council, ‘‘and since then it’s just spread.’’ The principle has worked equally well for the world’s two largest cruise ships, both Royal Caribbean’s, which use the spectacle of sheer magnitude to dispel the notion that there’s nothing to do at sea.
Despite the current appetite for ‘‘boutique’’ experiences, travelers may discover that more is more after all. Beyond offering almost limitless choices, these massive playgrounds are often startlingly innovative. ‘‘We can create major amenities, like sky parks, that are only economically feasible in these circumstances,’’ says the Marina Bay Sands architect Moshe Safdie, referring to the project’s 133,000-square-foot aerial garden. Experienced globe-trotters interpret this as better value, while inexperienced tourists — who Scowsill says make up a substantial portion of mega-resorts’ clientele, especially in the East — like feeling insulated from the outside world, with everything they could possibly need at arm’s reach. ‘‘With these big properties, there’s a settling feeling,’’ Cohen says. ‘‘You understand it, it’s exciting, it’s a known entity.’’ And if nothing else, the new giants have the lure of escapism on their side. Right now, too much may be the only thing that seems like enough.
LARGE AND IN CHARGE
North America The starchitect-heavy CityCenter opened last December on the Las Vegas Strip with 5,900 hotel rooms. LA Live (lalive.com) created a whole new neighborhood in downtown Los Angeles. Setting sail next month, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas (allureoftheseas.com) joins Oasis of the Seas as the world’s biggest cruise ships. To come in the Bahamas: Baha Mar (bahamar.com), with six hotels and the Caribbean’s largest casino.
Asia The Marina Bay Sands complex in downtown Singapore has attracted international attention with its triple towers, massive sky park and more than 2,500 hotel rooms. The Shanghai Tower, set to open in 2014, will be the tallest tower in the Far East, with hotels stacked on top of cultural sites.
Europe The golf and spa resort Costa Navarino opened in Greece this summer with two Starwood hotels. And that was Phase 1. Elsewhere on the Continent, Andermatt in the Swiss Alps and Budapest’s Dream Island, pegged by some as the Vegas of Hungary, are in development.
Middle East A 317-acre golf course is, for now, the main attraction on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, but by 2020 it will be joined by nine five-star hotels and four museums, including a branch of the Louvre. On the beach of Oman, the Salam Yiti trio of luxury hotels and residences is scheduled to be up and running by 2013.
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