By Rosemarie Francisco
MANILA (Reuters) - Luxury boutique hotel chain Nobu will set up its first Asia hotel in a $1.3 billion Philippines gambling complex operated by Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd, mainly targeting wealthy Chinese punters.
The Manila-based City of Dreams casino-resort is a joint venture of Melco Crown and local leisure firm Belle Corp. The Nobu hotel will be one of three in the complex, which aims to open by the middle of the year and will also feature the largest nightclub in the city and a Hollywood-style theme park.
"This is a bet on the Philippines and it is a bet on China," James Packer, Melco Crown's director, told reporters during a launch ceremony attended by celebrity Chef Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa and his partner in the hotel group, Hollywood film star Robert De Niro.
"We really need it to work for the people of Manila and to also be an attraction that is good enough to get the Chinese market to come here and have fun," he said.
Chinese are among the biggest-spending gamblers in the world, helping to turn China's special administrative region of Macau into the world's biggest gaming hub.
Manila is seeking to position itself as an alternative gaming destination to Macau and other established centers and is building four casino resorts in the seafront Manila Bay area.
The Nobu hotel in Manila is set to be the group's biggest so far. It will feature 321 rooms, almost double its award-winning Las Vegas property, as well as Michelin-starred Chef Nobu's signature fusion cuisine.
"We want to make sure that we have a great first impression," said Lawrence Ho, Melco Crown's chief executive.
"Our customers like to travel...and given the proximity, Manila could be a great weekend getaway," he added.
Melco Crown's City of Dreams will compete with Solaire, a 500-room casino-resort owned by Bloomberry Resorts Corp, and Resorts World, owned by Travelers International Hotel Group Inc, a venture between casino operator Genting Hong Kong Ltd and Philippine conglomerate Alliance Global Group Inc.
(Editing by Miral Fahmy)