52.2 [tourists]: 1 [inhabitant]

Each inhabitant of Macau ‘carries’ more than 52 tourists - a world record. Not even Venice - where much is discussed about excessive tourism - approaches this figure

2017 was a year of several records for Macau tourism, one of which went unnoticed: the tourist-to-population ratio, which is now 53.2 per resident, worsened. 

A more extreme number of tourists exists elsewhere; but it is not so much the number of tourists that the Vatican City receives (about 5 million a year) than the fact that it has fewer than 900 registered residents – the ratio reached is, as one can clearly perceive, absurd. 

Apart from the Vatican, Macau is the one place of the world where every inhabitant has to ‘support’ more tourists. 

And we are not just talking about countries: New York, Bangkok and Paris are major cities that have much lower numbers. 

The neighbouring region of Hong Kong does not reach nine tourists per resident – and it is public, as the ‘excess’ of tourists has been a reason for dispute with the HKSAR. 

But perhaps Venice is the closest example to Macau. 

Not only because values are ‘alike’ (1:37) but because the issue of mass tourism has been a frequent topic on the local political and social agenda (more so than in Macau). 

“The debate about tourism’s impact upon local inhabitants has received a great deal of attention, with the local legislature passing laws to ameliorate the so-called ‘nuisance’ effects of high levels of visitation,” according to a research paper spearheaded by Hong Kong Caritas Institute of Higher Education’s Professor Ivan Ka Wai Lai. 

He himself uses Venice as a paradigm: “In 2014, the city government proposed passing legislation forbidding tourists from wheeling suitcases along the city’s narrow cobbled streets to reduce noise pollution for local residents.” 

“The perceived quality of life of residents was significantly affected by the economic, cultural, and environmental consequences of tourism” – Wai Ian Ng 

“Despite the comparative lack of media attention, it is clear that mass tourism has the potential to create annoyances for the community in Macau and that this may affect residents’ support for tourism development. If residents resent or fear tourism, their resistance and hostility can destroy the local industry’s potential,” wrote Professor Ivan Lai (Local Reactions to Mass Tourism and Community Tourism Development in Macau, 2017). 

As in Venice, Macau’s population is divided: if on the one hand it benefits from the returns (mainly financial) of tourist activity, on the other hand it perceives that 32 million tourists create problems in all areas, similar to 10 years ago when fewer than 10 million tourists were received.   

And finally, as in Venice, “debates in the media about how to curb overall levels of visitation, which have been rumbling on for decades, have not resulted in significant action, presumably because of the economic value of tourism in what was once one of the premier mercantile cities of Europe.” 

Unsurprisingly, Professor Ivan’s research “indicates that while Macau residents may appreciate the contribution made by tourism to the prosperity of the SAR, they have become sensitised to the annoyance factors associated with this industry.” 

What is the government doing to mitigate mass tourism?  

“MGTO continues to promote a stable and sustainable development of the tourism industry, and to focus on pursuing the quality rather than quantity of visitors,” Macau Government Tourism Office told Macau Business, adding, “One of MGTO’s main aims is to extend the length of stay of visitors in Macau.” 

While in the past the proportion of same-day visitors was relatively higher than overnight visitors, in 2015 the number of same-day visitors accounted for 53.4% of all visitors.  

“With the continuous improvement of tourism facilities and the increase in tourist attractions,” says MGTO, “the number of overnight visitors surpassed the number of same-day visitors for the first time in 2016, accounting for 50.7% of the total number of visitors, while the proportion of overnight visitors in 2017 even increased to 52.9%, which was the highest recorded over the past 10 years.” 

Other MGTO priorities are to promote non-peak tourism events and activities to attract visitors to Macau at different times of the year and to reduce peak demand.  

“Besides, by the promotion of community tourism and smart tourism, visitors are encouraged to travel into the various districts of Macau, which will help to divert visitors from the congested areas, and also facilitate the tourism and economic development of the community,” the Office claimed. 

Even in California 

Macau Residents’ Perceptions of the Impact of Tourism on Quality of Life is the name of a Master’s thesis presented at California State Polytechnic University last year. 

Wai Ian Ng distributed a questionnaire to 252 households selected on a population proportional to Macau’s seven parishes. 

Results show that “the perceived quality of life of residents was significantly affected by the economic, cultural, and environmental consequences of tourism.” 

Wai finds positive impacts, however, in the preservation of culture, increased employment opportunities, preservation of wildlife and ecology, as well as cultural exchanges between residents and tourists, improving residents’ perception of their quality of life.  

“Conversely, negative impacts such as deterioration of culture, pollution, solid waste, and the increased cost of living, lowered residents’ perception of their quality of life,” wrote the author. “The findings of this study should draw public attention to the quality of life issue and provide Macau policymakers with valuable statistics for future policy implementation.”