“Clear signs of tension between residents and tourists”

Accustomed to deadlines and targets not being met, Macau residents may not even have realised that one of the main topics of the Five-Year Development Plan (2016-2020) has already been reached two years ahead: while the Plan anticipated Macau receiving around 33 million tourists by the end of the period, 35.8 million, in fact, visited the Region last year. 

It seems reasonable (or even modest) to predict 40 million tourists by 2025. 

It transpires, however, that the population of Macau is already beginning to show signs of saturation and even reacting negatively to the excess of tourists. 

Recent research on residents’ attitudes concludes that “on average, respondents perceived a slightly positive impact from tourism on their Quality of Life (QoL) in regard to their individual and family income, security of job, and benefits they can get from the government, all of them in the material domain.”  

However, the same respondents “perceived negative impact on all other indicators across four domains, especially feeling a vigorous negative impact on public transportation under the community domain and cost of housing under the material domain.” 

Quality of Life and Emotional Solidarity in Residents’ Attitudes towards Tourists – The Case of Macau (online) is the name of a Master’s degree dissertation on Tourism Economics and Regional Development presented by Hio Kuan Lai of the Faculty of Economics, University of Algarve (Portugal), who claims that “this study is the first of its kind to link two concepts together (QoL and emotional solidarity) to examine residents’ attitudes towards tourists.” 

The dissertation seeks to measure how the residents of Macau perceive the impact of tourism upon their QoL and their satisfaction quotient with QoL across four domains (i.e.) material, community, emotional, and health & safety. 

“The residents of Macau also perceived negative economic impact upon the cost of living, cost of housing and cost of basic necessities, which should not be underestimated,” states the author. “Growing tensions may catalyse anti-tourist emotions, thus dissatisfying tourists and threatening the sustainable development of Macau as a tourism destination.”  

In this chapter Hio quotes the anti-tourist movement that occurred in Barcelona in 2017 after “the tourism activities crossed the threshold of residents’ tolerance.” 

Dangerous to Macau? 

With the Macau Government’s estimate of 40 million visitors by 2025, how does the author see this scenario in the light of the main findings of the research?  

“Given the findings from my thesis that residents perceive rather a negative impact from tourism on their quality of life – which is correlated to their emotional solidarity towards tourists – the surge of visitor arrivals in 2025 (+22.7 per cent compared to 2017) would probably increase tensions between Macau residents and visitors,” Hio Kuan Lai told Macau Business.  

The author stressed that “tensions might be lessened by helping residents avoid perceiving tourism as contributing to the degradation of their quality of life. As widely believed by scholars and myself, the local community is better to take into account the long-term sustainability of tourism development,” without forgetting that “residents’ attitudes may become more negative at a later stage of tourism development when they perceive more costs than anticipated benefits.” 

“Growing tensions may catalyse anti-tourist emotions, thus dissatisfying tourists and threatening the sustainable development of Macau as a tourism destination” – Hio Kuan Lai 

If this suggestion is taken into account by the authorities, there is much work to be done. Moreover, a more detailed analysis of the figures shows, for example, that “the value obtained for overall satisfaction with QoL (2.76) indicated that residents were not satisfied . . . helping explain the low emotional solidarity scores.”  

In comparing the data she had obtained in her work on emotional closeness and sympathetic understanding factors the author realised that they have dropped 4.7 per cent and 9.6 per cent, respectively, when compared to the 2017 and 2015 surveys. 

For all this, Hio concludes that the authorities should be aware of what is happening and what will happen in the near future.  

With residents perceiving rather a negative impact from tourism, expressing dissatisfaction with their QoL, and indicating low sympathetic understanding of tourists, there are clear signs of tension between residents and tourists in Macau,” she says. “The current level of tourism development negatively affects residents’ QoL. Therefore residents may no longer identify with, have affection towards, and see what they have in common with tourists.” 

(The results were obtained from an online survey of Macau residents conducted in April and May 2018. Some 407 usable questionnaires were employed for data analysis, accounting for 98.1 per cent of the total sample). 

Hio exploring opportunities 

Hio Kuan Lai, 28, finished her Bachelor’s degree in Macau and spent some years working in the hospitality industry in Human Resources Department.
Last year “I was thinking that it was time for me to start a new chapter – to extend my contribution beyond the private sector,” she said, prompting her to return to her studies, choosing the University of Algarve “mainly because the Algarve is a natural laboratory for studying tourism, and who doesn’t want to live in a place with great weather and wonderful beaches?”  

Having concluded her Master’s programme in November 2018, Hio returned to Macau, telling Macau Business that she has plans for an “upcoming research project . . . [whilst] . . . “exploring what opportunities will be available in Macau.”