Grand ambitions on the plate

Macau is eager to milk its UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy status, but to succeed as a foodie haven it has to look beyond prestige and consider the survival of small food businesses

A traditional shop on the streets of Macau

No longer content with being a gaming haven, the ‘Las Vegas of Asia’ is now working towards transforming itself into a foodie destination after clinching recognition as a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy last October.

A traditional shop on the streets of Macau

At the annual marketing meeting held in June 2018, Macao Government Tourism Office (MGTO) revealed that gastronomy and festivals will be a key focus of its marketing plan going forward.

An MGTO spokesperson said: “Following Macau’s designation, the government unfolded a four-year action plan (2018-2021) which includes various initiatives in six categories, and (identified) the 2018 Macao Year of Gastronomy as one of the key highlights of the four-year action plan.

MGTO plans to promote Macau’s “cultural image”, as well as organise or support international events in line with the gastronomy theme.

The tourism body will work towards integrating gastronomy in existing events including the Parade for Celebration of Chinese New Year in February and the Macau Light Festival in December, the spokesperson shared.

In 2019, MGTO will organise the International Gastronomy Forum for the third year, while also pushing for the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards Ceremony to be hosted in Macau again in 2019.

Moreover, MGTO intends to continue to support local associations and private sector organisations, as well as work with other government departments on gastronomy-related festivals and events. Some recently concluded examples include the Malaysian Food Festival 2018 (August 16-31) and the Southeast Asia Food Carnival (mid-August).

On the ground, MGTO is rolling out different promotional activities through its representatives in various source markets, working with travel agencies to promote the destination’s travel products.

Pamela Chan, associate director – head of marketing, Taipa Village Destination, remarked: “With the territory’s growing recognition (among foodies), Taipa Village continues to receive an increasing number of visitors.”

Taipa Village has been hosting regular tours for media, industry partners and teambuilding clients who are keen to explore the destination’s mix of art, cultural and dining experiences.

“Gastronomy is the main highlight. We once hosted a teambuilding company for a treasure hunt activity in Taipa Village, with eight spots assigned as check points.  The treasure hunt concluded with a Macanese cha gordo (fat tea) at Macanese restaurant La Famiglia,” Chan continued.

While lauding MGTO’s new direction, Manuel Wu, managing director of Macau Explorer Cultural Travel, which runs gourmet/food tours, sees room in developing food tourism offerings in Macau beyond large-scale events.

Wu said: “I haven’t seen any surge of similar tours from other operators in the market; what they offer mostly echo MGTO’s promotions promotions such as those focusing on food festivals.

“This is really due to the limitation of the local infrastructure. Many family-run outlets, for instance, are small and simply can’t manage big groups,” he added.

To develop Macau’s food tourism, Wu wants more to be done to help small food businesses survive. He said: “In the long run, it’d be helpful if the government could lend support to these small outlets because escalating rentals are driving the successors of ageing restaurant owners’ to close business and rent out the premises.”

Another issue Wu pinpointed, is the difficulty of experienced chefs in finding successors to pass on their skills due to a lack of interest among the younger generation.

“It’s vital for the government to incentivise the younger generation to pick up the cooking profession and preserve this traditional local neighbourhood food culture.”

On top of cooking classes, Wu’s company offers tours that visit traditional family-run food outlets, some with over 50 years of history in old districts like the Inner Harbour of Macau Peninsula.

“So far, enquiries are mostly from South-east Asia agents asking if I can organise street food tours for groups to venture into local market areas,” Wu said.

MGTO says it is taking steps to give visibility to food businesses on the ground. It has been collecting information from local associations about eateries and restaurants along its eight recommended walking routes (Step Out, Experience Macao’s Communities – Walking Tour Routes), and plotting these food haunts along the routes.

“Currently, MGTO is compiling additional information including opening hours, type of cuisines and locations by district in order to fully promote the dining scene and attract visitors and residents to different districts,” the MGTO spokesperson shared.

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