(Xinhua/Li Bo)

City can still reach 22 mln visitors this year – Tourism Office Director

The Macau SAR could still reach some 22 million visitors this year despite the pandemic, Macao Government Tourism Office (MGTO) Director Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes indicated in an interview with newspaper Ponto Final.

However, Fernandes noted that it was first essential to ensure a safe environment for local residents before considering a border re-opening.

“If we reopen suddenly, it could reintroduce more cases to the city. Concerning imported cases, we have a good system to try to mitigate the situation, but if there were local or community cases this would be more complicated. At the same time, we have to open borders, step by step,” she indicated in the interview.

The MGTO Director also again warned that according to the projections of the World Tourism Organization, at least three years would be required for tourism flows to get back to the same situation before the pandemic due to the impact caused in the airline industry.

In 2019 more than 39.4 million visitors were reported, with 71 per cent hailing from mainland China.

As border restrictions were gradually imposed due to the health crisis, the city reported about 3.2 million visitors between January and May of this year, an 81 per cent year-on-year fall, with the number of visitors from Mainland China has also fallen by 81 per cent to 2.3 million.

The local occupancy rate has also stumbled down from 90 per cent last year, to 30 per cent between January and May of this year.

The most recent predictions by the University of Macau’s (UM) Centre for Macau Studies and Department of Economics 2020 Macau Macroeconomic Forecast only estimated a maximum scenario of 12.66 million visitors this year, which could lead to a 60 per cent GDP drop.

“The Chief Executive himself said he would, in due course, request the Chinese Central Government to return to issuing individual visas. Of course, this cannot happen overnight, we have to observe the situation every day. I think with the opening of Zhuhai and eventually other cities in the Greater Bay Area, I hope even the whole of Guangdong province, will help the local situation in economic terms a lot,” she added.

Macau residents can currently to apply to 3,000 daily quotas for exemption from the Guangdong’s current 14-day quarantine requirement to nine cities in the province, however efforts to open a travel bubble together with Hong Kong have yet to be formally announced, with the neighbouring SAR facing another spike in local cases.

“We cannot continue without opening the borders because we are a city of tourism, and in addition to tourism almost all businesses in Macau depend, some more but less, on the movement of people,” Fernandes added.