Macau’s strong trek back

Macau is busy enticing overseas trade and visitors with new incentives and tourism offerings after reopening in February. Director of Macau Government Tourism Office, Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes, explains what’s new and what lies ahead

What is Macau’s 2023 tourism outlook?
We reached 11.6 million visitors by the end of June – all in the short time since Macau reopened to the world (in February 2023). This is a very good indication of a return to normalcy.

We are seeing a very healthy recovery: the daily average was about 45,000 visitors in January; now it’s about 74,000 despite June not being traditionally a peak month. It shows people are really interested in Macau.

Our biggest market, China, is at 60 per cent (of pre-pandemic level); Hong Kong, always vital, is over 90 per cent; Taiwan about 30 per cent. Our biggest challenge is the international market. In the absence of longhaul flights, we’re working on building shorthaul demand.

Hotel occupancy is almost 90 per cent on average.

By year’s end, 20 million visitors is a safe forecast if nothing untoward happens and we don’t return to last year’s pandemic controls. It’s now a matter of economics everywhere, not just Macau, and how quickly the different tourism sectors can recover, especially aviation.

It’s a challenging period but also very exciting, because the entire industry in Macau is working together.

Will Macau’s road to recovery be long and hard?
I don’t think recovery will be very hard but we must give it time for people to come, and for staff to return and be re-trained.

Covid-19 forced many people to change jobs. Now the difficulty is that everybody is recruiting. Macau’s labour pool is small and we must rely heavily on imported labour to service the industry, especially front-of-house and back-of-house positions. We’re competing for every talent, since there are many very good options in Hong Kong and China as well as Macau for anyone looking for work. This will work out in due course.

However, for the aviation sector, which needs ground handlers, air-traffic controllers, pilots, and maintenance technicians, these are not jobs you can train today for work tomorrow.

What new tourism developments this year will excite visitors?
For one, there are many new hotels. Raffles at Galaxy Macau has just soft-opened, while Andaz Macau will soon open and (offer guests a direct connection) to the Galaxy International Convention Center.

The W brand is also coming here.

Every integrated resort is pulling out all the stops (to draw visitors), with different attractions and new elements. Some were able to launch new things before summer, like Studio City Water Park and teamLab SuperNature Macao, which gives them time now to move on to their next phase of development.

Macau is more than these, of course. Beyond the tourist precincts are many interesting small hotels in community areas. People are rediscovering old attractions, such as traditional establishments given a new life by the government; look at the Former Iec Long Firecracker Factory, Ká Hó Leprosarium, and old Coloane shipbuilding yards. Technologies like augmented reality interactive installations are also enriching the sightseeing experience in the old Rua dos Ervanários district.

The six Macau casino concessionaires awarded last November pledged to invest 118.8 billion patacas (US$14.8 billion) in non-gaming areas over the next 10 years. What does this mean for tourism?
(The money) will be put into developing non-gaming projects and exploring overseas customer markets, in accordance with government’s policy to step up non-gaming offerings to cultivate a sustainable and diversified economy. Investment plans must be government approved and examined each year to see what is spent and whether they have fulfilled their promises.

There are about eleven varied areas in which the spending is to be made, including conventions and exhibitions, entertainment, sports events, art and culture, themed attractions, gastronomy and health, community and maritime tourism.

Such investments clearly help. Take a high-profile concert this year: the fans came, some explored the town – and at least everybody ate somewhere; their presence benefitted everybody not just the integrated resorts.

Different events tap into different segments of the economy. We’re offering different interest groups reasons to come, offering a lot of novelty, having something happening almost every week.

Is destination marketing different after Covid?
Visitors now want to stay longer, see different things, and take their time to enjoy. They want many more good experiences, rather than being shown just one or two attractions.

As such, we’ve changed how we market by giving visitors more information, and more ways of getting that information. It’s not enough to run commercials or marketing in traditional media; word-of-mouth is critical, as are key opinion leaders (KOLs). In 2H2023, we’ll be enlarging the scope of social media promotions, such as activating more channels and collaborating with more KOLs from South-east Asia, the Middle East and other regions.

During the pandemic, we had to quickly develop mobile forms of domestic payment. The challenge now is to include other kinds of foreign mobile payment gateways.

What are your regional marketing plans?
Apart from roadshows, we are running different promotions with airlines, especially new ones flying in. We ran a limited ‘buy one get one free’ offer with Air Macau, for instance.
We also offer a subsidy scheme for group tours, which will run until the end of the year to (give) local travel agents (more time to) rebuild relationships with counterparts after three years of absence.

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