Even though the difficulties are still noticeable, ties between Macau and Hengqin are tightening, driven by the current Chief Executive who sees the future of economic diversification over there, a stone’s throw away.
MB July 2020 Special Report | Crossroads of Macau tourism
Let’s say someone picks up this special report 20 years from now.
He will probably laugh at some of the things that are said here, but there is (at least …) one in which we are sure that this will not happen: the bet on Hengqin will be increasingly strategic and, step by step, the two locations will discover the benefits of a common future.
Why 20 years?
Because it will take a long time before the relationship is sufficiently oiled so that it is not noticed, at each step taken, that there are two legal systems, a duplication of services or, to give a very objective example, differences in internet access on each side of the river.
It will take time, finally, to assume once and for all that Macau is not in a position, on its own, to develop a project for economic and tourist diversification, needing space to create, for example, theme parks – as happens with Hengqin.
In this context, the current Executive Chief has already made a difference.
In his first Policy Address, Ho Iat Seng said that the solution for the diversification of Macau’s economy lies in taking advantage of the opportunities that are emerging on Hengqin Island, within the scope of the regional integration plan in the Great Bay Area.
According to the Chief Executive, “diversifying the economy is the path that Macau must follow, which lacks persistence, an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit in its process”. The way forward, he argued, taking into account the existing difficulties, “such as geographical limitations and the lack of resources”, goes through, “regional cooperation, namely at the level of joint development of Hengqin”, an area that, “may provide new spaces and conditions for the proper diversification of Macau’s economy in order not only to produce more income and fortunes, but also to forge a solid economic base for Macau’s long-term stability and to find new opportunities for the development of the population, in particular of young people”.
The following month, interviewed in Beijing by China News Services, Ho Iat Seng went even further, speaking of Hengqin’s function to be the, “second Macau”. The island’s 106 square kilometres, three times larger than the entire land area of Macau, make it an inevitable, “stopping point” along the route of the Grande Bay, he said.
On the same occasion, the Chief Executive said that the construction of the light rail connection line to Hengqin provides Macau residents with access to the Chinese high-speed rail line. “This connection can represent a huge leap forward for tourism and business.”
While it will highlight the umbilical cord with tourists from Guangdong province, which some experts have signalled, the marriage to Hengqin will decrease dependence on connections with Hong Kong, including the airport on the neighbouring island and local immigration controls.
“Macau recorded double-digit growth of international visitors in the first half of 2019. However, international visitors significantly dropped in the second half of last year, influenced by the situation in Hong Kong,” said Director of Macau Government Tourism Office recently. “We have to review our current civil aviation network to expand our international markets, which is a long-term goal for us”, added Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes.
“Hengqin Island is an essential element for Macau to actively participate in the build up of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area,” states Professor Matthew Liu, Director of the Centre for Continuing Education, University of Macau. “The Macau government is coordinating with Hengqin on development of high-tech manufacturing industry in Hengqin,” he ads. “I personally have an optimistic outlook that Macau’s moderate economic diversification can get satisfactory results in the next decade.”
It is known that there are more and more tourists interested in walking trails and enjoying nature.
Ecotourism can therefore be part of a wider program of tourist diversification.
But Macau’s supply will always be reduced.
Jack Ly, Visiting Assistant Professor at the Institute for Tourism Studies considers that as, “whenever the destination can reach the following four criteria, you can claim there is an ecotourism/natural tourism activity going on”: Basis in natural environment; learning or appreciation about the natural attractions that form the basis of the ecotourism product; the spirit of ecotourism is to sustain, with financial viability.
“While we scan through these 4 criteria, Macau has basically fulfilled these 4 conditions in my thinking, however, our government did not bunch them together as an ecotourism product,” he states to Macau Business. That’s why, he insists, “many people don’t think there is any ecotourism in Macau. I think we might develop a paper to assess ecotourism/natural tourism in Macau involving the ideas of the major stakeholders.”
For now, international tourists coming to Macau to do ecotourism/nature-based tourism can only go to Coloane Island.
But, Professor Ly argues, “we don’t have any guidance or promotion from the Macau Government to give them information about nature-based tourism. This is something MGTO should consider in the future.”
The same opinion can be found in the study, Market Segmentation by Travel Motivations Under a Transforming Economy: Evidence from the Monte Carlo of the Orient (2018), where the authors state that, “a new image as a leisure destination that provides full relaxation and freedom should be constructed … creating more local events for tourists to participate in to experience the local culture and lifestyle.”