IAG FEBRUARY 2016 - page 4

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BRUARY2016
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EDITORIAL
StevenRibet
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UppingMacau’sTourismGame
O
n 21 JanuaryMacau’s Secretary for Administration and Justice Sonia Chanmade
the curious comment that hundreds of the city’s laws and regulations needed to
be abolished. The rules, she explained, dated back to the Portuguese colonial era
andhad lost relevanceunder the rapiddevelopment causedby theexplosionof the
casino industry. As longas timesweregood, shesaid, social problemswerenot hard to resolve.
But nowwith gaming revenues in a protracted slump, Chan said social conflicts had appeared
tohighlight the laws’ inadequacies.
Although Chanwas talking about the law, according to some her comments could equally
have referred to themanagement of Macau’s tourism industry. Fifteen years ago the territory
was not a shadow of what we see today, with a visitor offering tomatch. Today it has soared
into the ranks of the world’s top destinations. In 2014, for example, visitors toMacau spent a
staggeringUS$54billion.Whileadmittedly the lion’sshareof that amount isgaming revenue, it
wasstillmore than three timesasmuchas they spent inLondon. Yet in termsof how itmarkets
and serves visitors from itsmost important market (see cover story) and farther afield, there
is an acknowledgement thatMacau is still behindwhere is shouldbe, and the lag is nowbeing
painfully exposed.
Take, for starters, branding. An Asian urbanite will immediately be able to tell you what
images spring tomindwhenhe hears “Paris” or “LasVegas.” Say “Macau”, however, and after
getting past “casinos”, he or she will probably come up blank. As one commentator puts it,
“Macauwas the original laboratory forWestmeetingEast. It has plenty of world class stuffbut
has failed to turn them intoworld-class attractions. Cooperation is lacking between theMacau
GovernmentTouristOffice (MGTO)and thebig integrated resorts, toco-ordinate theirofferings
for visits that take in sightseeing and a show, as well as a visit to a casino.” Forward planning
is another area. While the tourism departments of top destinations routinely draw up lists of
scenarios to prepare for, the slump in gaming seem to have caught the Macau Government
TourismOffice completely off guard. Then there is research. Cities like New York and Hong
Kong spend huge amounts of time andmoney talking to target customers in different parts
of the world; to find out how they are perceived and why foreigners want to come. Recently a
Macau university academic told us inMacau such efforts are largely confined toMGTO staff
standing at the border to approachnew arrivalswith a questionnaire.
The challenge facing any tourist destination can be put in four simple sentences: Attract
more visitors. Get them to stay longer. Get them to spendmore during their trip. Get them to
come back. Yet on all four accountsMacau is now in decline. According to the city’s statistics
service, visitor arrivals last year actually fell by2.6%. Theaverage lengthof stay isabrief 1.4days
and has been steady around this number for the best part of a decade, compared with 4.2 in
London (for bothdomesticandoverseas visitors) and 3.6 for LasVegas.Non-gaming spending
showsno signofmakingup for collapsinggaming revenues.Worst of all, only8%of thosewho
have come say they intend to return, according to recent researchbyCLSA. That compareswith
37% for Japan and 25% forHongKong.
Last September theMGTOmade the wisemove of hiring a top consultancy AECOMAsia
to spend 18months researching and drafting a “Local TourismMaster Plan.” The report will
recommend a strategy to openMacau to theworld and diversify its tourism products over the
short,medium and long term. Implementationwill be crucial.
Pundits are fondof sayingMacau should learn from Las Vegas. Yet if the city cannot up its
game, another referencemight be Atlantic City. America’s east coast hub for gambling turned
out to have little else to offer after neighboring states started opening casinos of their own.
Macau’s emerging competitors in Korea (see this edition’s “In Focus” article), the Philippines
and Australia are much further away, so the comparison may be overblown. Yet given that
tourism generates some 90% of Macau’s GDP, the consequences of a failure to improve its
tourismoffering couldbe equally severe.
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