Sabrina Ho looks to Macau art fairs and auctions to diversify economy away from casinos
Sabrina Ho Chiu-yeng is doing what she will to help Macau diversify. The 26-year-old daughter of Stanley Ho Hung-sun could be improved known for gracing culture and leisure internet pages, but in January she organised the primary Macau gross sales by China’s state-owned Poly Auction and then in November held her own annual hotel art fair, having already launched an exhibition to promote the work of young art graduates in September.
“Macau is changing,” she tells The Collector. “We don’t want to rely just on the gaming industry. We want more families to come here for holidays, we want to boost our cultural and creative industries.”
China’s biggest art auctioneer resists official efforts to reform the market
This is a politically correct view for the daughter of a casino magnate. Macau is in the cross hairs of Beijing’s war on corruption and capital outflow. The central government started urging the city to quit its addiction to the gaming sector, the taxes from which pay for most public expenditures, back during the boom years, when the “build it and they will come” mentality ruled the casino industry. Today, mainland policies to discourage high rollers combined with a slowing economy have increased the pressure to find new revenues.
Fundamental change has been slow to come. Five casinos have opened since 2012 and more are on the way, including two from branches of the Ho empire – the Grand Lisboa Palace, led by Ho’s mother, Angela Leong On-kei (Stanley’s so-called “fourth wife”), and MGM Cotai, headed by Sabrina Ho’s half-sister Pansy Ho Chiu-king.
So are Sabrina’s cultural endeavours all just a bit of soft public relations for the clan?
Well, China’s biggest auction house is treating her seriously, and hopes her youthful energy and family connections can support it break into a new and wealthy market where no international house has a presence. In return, Ho says, she wants the auctions that can help attract tourists and perhaps encourage the city’s 600,000 residents to develop more of an interest in culture. The partnership, called Poly Auction Macau, is 51 per cent owned by Poly and the rest by Ho’s company, Chiu Yeng Culture.
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Ho grew up surrounded by art and other collectables owned by her parents but she is fairly new to the auctions business. After graduating with an arts degree from the University of Hong Kong, in 2013, she worked on the branding and marketing side of the family’s hotel and property businesses. “But I like art and I asked Poly if I could work part time at their Hong Kong office, to learn about the auction world,” she says.
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