Mohegan looks east for next venture

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The Inspire Resort, shown in a rendering and scheduled to open in 2020, will include a casino, two amusement parks and 1,350 guestrooms.
The Inspire Resort, shown in a rendering and scheduled to open in 2020, will include a casino, two amusement parks and 1,350 guestrooms.

For its first non-U.S. venture, Mohegan Sun's parent company is betting that its approach to casino resorts will resonate with guests from China and throughout northern Asia, a market it sees as underserved.

The Inspire Resort, the project's working name, is a collaboration between the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority and the operator of Incheon Airport, which owns the 800-acre parcel on which it will be built.

The $1.8 billion first phase is slated to open in early 2020, featuring facilities that have become Mohegan hallmarks: nearly 200,000 square feet of gaming space; 1,350 luxury guestrooms; a bevy of food-and-beverage and retail outlets; and a 15,000-seat entertainment arena.

It will have a few elements new to Mohegan, as well, such as medical facilities for cosmetic surgery and a retail beauty products section, capitalizing on South Korea's growing medical tourism industry.

Family-friendly diversions will include an "eco-adventure park" offering ziplining and rock climbing and a Paramount Studios theme park with "the latest high-tech amusement rides," according to a Mohegan press release.

Bobby Soper
Bobby Soper

Bobby Soper, president of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, said Mohegan is in the process of finalizing its design concept for accommodations.

"It likely will have two to three hotel towers, which may serve different purposes," he said. "For example, we'll have one tower that will be in closer proximity to the theme park and the eco-park, which may be family-oriented, vs. a hotel that will be adjacent to the medical tourism hub."

'West meeting East'

According to Soper, all of this will be combined with "elements that celebrate the culture and history of Korea as well as the culture and history of Native American tribes, especially the Mohegan tribe."

"It's West meeting East, if you will," he said. "There will actually be a museum incorporated into the project that will celebrate [Native American] history."

The East-meets-West approach will extend to acts booked for arena performances, as well.

"Korea is a leader in pop culture in Asia," Soper said. "We will certainly leverage those trends and that influence. But [Koreans] also enjoy certain Western influences, including Western music, and we've had a lot of success in the U.S. showcasing the top acts in the world."

Focus on China

The Inspire Resort's diversity of options will be crucial because, despite the property's Korea location, at least in terms of gaming the focus will be on the northern Chinese traveler and other international visitors, as by law Korean citizens are not allowed to gamble.

Chinese visitors accounted for about 45% of arrivals to South Korea last year, according to Korea Tourism Organization data. And whereas casino destinations such as Macau focus primarily on visitors from southern China and Southeast Asia, Soper said that Mohegan will specifically target visitors who would be arriving from Beijing, Shanghai and other regions to the north.

"We thought that our initiative in Korea was an opportunity to showcase the entertainment-driven brand of Mohegan Sun on the international stage," he said. "We strongly believe that Korea and more specifically Incheon will be the tourist hub of northern Asia, and as such we think this is a perfect location to extend our brand."

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