Tourism officials point to a daily average of 40,000 visitors by 2023. Industry insiders say it is possible to bring in more than 14 million tourists by the end of the year. But the focus should be on their quality, not quantity. Tourists are wanted who stay overnight and spend more
The estimate was released by the director of the Tourism Services, Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes. 40 thousand visitors per day are expected in Macau, now that the “worst” wave of Covid-19 has passed in the Region. This is not the first time this number has been mentioned. In September last year, the Chief Executive, Ho Iat Seng, did the same, after announcing the resumption of electronic visas. However, successive outbreaks on the mainland and border restrictions with the neighboring city of Zhuhai eventually brought those predictions down.
The abandonment of the zero-case policy brought added difficulties to the sector, which is now getting back on its feet and looks to the Chinese New Year as the first test of fire. There is more optimism, and 2023 is expected to counter the numbers recorded from September to November 2022 (16,535 daily visitors). December was not an easy month, much due to the spread of the virus locally and nationally, but the last day of the year already showed signs of growth, recording 28,103 entries – only comparable to the Golden Week of October 1.
POINTS IN FAVOR AND A WARNING
For more than a decade, Mainland visitors have been coming to Macau mostly for shopping. Restaurants are what most attract visitors from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Cultural heritage brings Westerners and other Asian tourists. Infrastructures that are still in place, even with the shakeup caused by Covid-19. “These are the non-game offerings we have right now,” says Glenn McCartney, professor of Integrated Tourism and Hospitality Management at the University of Macau.
To achieve the goals already in the 1st quarter of the year, the academic refers to the importance of managing the ‘accumulated demand’ in the Chinese New Year.
“We have witnessed around the world the phenomenon of ‘accumulated demand’, where airports and other tourism infrastructures are overloaded and have difficulties in dealing with the increase in the number of visitors. What we can see in the Mainland and in Hong Kong is that there is this demand for Macau, but it has not yet materialized because we are dealing with the consequences of the spread of the virus in the community. The travel agencies already indicate a great interest from travelers from Mainland China. So we know it will happen, we just don’t know when. We look ahead to the Chinese New Year and we know that we will have to deal with that demand, although right now we are looking into a crystal ball. I believe the promotion roadshows that the local authorities and the dealers have done on the mainland will be important for this new stage,” he adds.
“It is expected that there will be an increase in the occupancy rate already in the Chinese New Year. There will still be many constraints, people in isolation and recovery, certainly many cancellations and last minute bookings. China is a huge market and many of the people who are able to travel or recovered will certainly look to the nearby regions, depending on whether or not they can get a visa to enter. We also expect the return of the very important and desired FIT (Free Independent Traveller) market from Hong Kong, which stays overnight and spends well in restaurants, uses transport and buys in retail,” comments Luís Herédia, president of the Macau Hotels Association.
To Ponto Final, Rutger Verschuren, vice president of operations of the tourist flow dimension, which put too much pressure on the city’s resources, so we have to start looking at different metrics.”
Also read: Macau tourism agency tries to attract more mainland visitors
Macau welcomed about 39.4 million visitors (108,000 daily visitors) in 2019. The ratio of residents to tourists was one to 60. And even in the face of abundant movement, more than half of visitors have not stayed overnight in Macau since 2013, according to a 2019 study conducted by the Institute of Tourism Training (IFT). In the same year, the length of stay of visitors was 1.2 days.
On the other hand, only half of mainland tourists admitted to traveling to the Region frequently. In 2019, this market accounted for 75 percent of arrivals, and this dependence was accentuated during the pandemic.
“There is no problem in having a large number of people who only come to Macau during the day. But it has become more difficult to extend their stay, due to the development of transportation and Zhuhai’s competitively priced hotel scene,” reflects the academic. There were nearly 19 million tourist arrivals from the Greater Bay Area in the year 2019, or almost half. Since the formation of the megametropolis, the construction of a modern and comprehensive transportation system has been accelerated, with the goal of achieving the “one-hour circle of life” – to be in any city in the region in 60 minutes. In 2021 alone, a new border crossing between Guangdong and Macau (Qingmao) came into operation, and projects such as the 3rd expansion of Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, the Shenzhen-Zhongshan Bridge and the Huangmao Sea Crossing have been accelerated. All of these infrastructures bring advantages to Macau by making access easier, but they can also negatively affect the level of consumption and the duration of visits.
EXTEND STAYS ONLY WITH MICE
To guarantee an “extended stay”, Herédia points to the MICE industry, “along with a good shows and events product”. McCartney agrees: “The hotel industry likes MICE because it guarantees a three- to four-night stay, on average. And one of the reasons people tend to extend their stays has a lot to do with that industry. Just look at Las Vegas, which guarantees an average of four nights per visitor, largely because of the size of its MICE industry. In Macau we don’t have that yet, because our target market has been leisure.”
Macau ranked 48th in the world with the most events in 2019, ranking 12th in the Asia Pacific region, according to a report by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA). Still, it was behind Hong Kong, which ranked 22nd and 7th, respectively.
“We have to improve part of the infrastructure, namely the airport,” believes Herédia, to increase Macau’s competitiveness in this and other areas of tourism. McCartney recalls that the isolation caused by the zero-case policy has led to a reduction in the number of services and that it is necessary to regain attractiveness. “We have to bring back shows, concerts, among others, and that can’t be done in the short term, because the talent has to come from outside.”
For the city to venture into the MICE market, it is crucial that public and private entities pass the “same message” to potential clients, because the infrastructures already exist, considers the academic. “Based on our research, major conventions and congresses place a lot of importance on this point. They look at the destination as a whole. When I was attending ICCA meetings, and listening to the organizers of these events, I realized that the proposal really has to be very attractive, because you’re not the only one in the room. You have to present a number of reasons why Macau is the right destination.”
Also read: Chinese New Year will attract the largest number of tourists to Macau since the beginning of the pandemic
During the pandemic, the city was promoted as a “safe destination,” out of reach of the virus, but the reality is different now. “It’s part of it, every year you have to reflect on the image and make the necessary changes,” admits the academic.
HOTELS WITH UNFILLED POSTS
The pandemic has also reduced the workforce in the hotel sector. If between September and November 2019 this industry employed 14.3 percent of the population, the truth is that in the same period in 2022 it only employed 12 percent, that is, 12,000 fewer workers in three years. A change in the labor fabric motivated by the decrease in demand, which is now rising again and forces a new wave of hiring. Speaking to Ponto Final, Rutger Verschuren acknowledges the challenges, lamenting the restrictions on the entry of foreign workers.
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“We know we have to hire locals, but we can’t find anyone who wants to do waiter roles, room cleaning or dishwashing. We are understaffed.” Herédia adds that there are also gaps to fill in senior staff: “Employing residents is a priority of ours, however, there are difficulties in finding suitable staff trained in certain roles.”
A concern that, he tells our newspaper, is being coordinated with the authorities.
“There is always that communication, although now it must be more intense, frequent and open, in order to be forewarned and able to provide the services that make us competitive.” For this, “we need staff capable of managing at the highest level,” he stresses.