Macau Opinion | MICE miss

Every year, the statistical department carries a survey of several economic sectors.

The most recent one, published in October, covers activities in the service sector encompassing Real Estate, Security, Cleaning, Advertising, and Conference and Exhibition Organizing Services.

The development of conference and exhibition activities (usually identified under the MICE acronym) has long been a priority. It was singled out as a key target to promote the diversification of the economy. It was the object of specific studies aiming at the development of policies that could stimulate that pursuit. It justified the creation of a special guiding body and supporting services. It got significant public financial support, directly and indirectly. It is also seen as an essential tool for another crucial political objective, the strengthening of relations with the Portuguese-speaking countries.

One way or the other, these priorities and policy objectives were declared and reiterated in successive Policy Addresses. They are mentioned in the Macau five-year Plan – and possibly in most, if not all, government documents and statements about those topics. One might think this survey should receive a good deal of attention and expect that its results would be carefully analyzed. It does not seem to be the case. And the outcomes attained are less than brilliant. Let us take the published figures at face value and leave aside a couple of doubts about their consistency.

On the surface, things seem to be going quite well. In the last five years, the number of establishments involved in the organization of conferences and exhibitions rose three-fold, from 33 establishments in 2012 to 98 in 2017. In the last year alone, the number of workers rose by a quarter, and investment more than doubled. It all seems too good to be true. It certainly is.

When we look into more detail, we realize that over the years the average size of the companies has been stuck in values sitting between four and five workers per company. That is, we are mostly talking about micro-companies. Their growth – or, more appropriately, their multiplication (!) – may have several explanations; but efficiency and booming revenues they aren’t. The total number of persons engaged in the sector is just 427 (about 0.1 percent of the employment figures for the region). Its Gross Added Value stood just above MOP100 million (less than 0.03 per cent of the economy). It is not much to show after all these years.