Macau is getting ready for its open data initiative

By Simon Lei Kong

IFTM Comments is a partnership between Macau News Agency and Macao Institute for Tourism Studies

Macau aims to transform itself into a smart city. In the Five-Year Development Plan of the Macau SAR (2016–2020), development into a smart city has been put on the agenda, highlighted by four cornerstones: smart tourism, smart transport, smart healthcare, and smart government.

Simon Lei Kong is an Assistant Professor of Macao Institute for Tourism Studies

In my recent smart tourism-related interviews (conducted between December 2019 and January 2020) with twelve professionals from academia and industry, two of them coincidently used the term “tourism ecosystem”, in which all stakeholders from a destination, collectively known as the “host”, should join hands together to make data accurate, up-to-date and sharable so that all players can benefit from it. “Content is the king and data is the king” was narrated by one of the respondents, who is a managing director of a local IT company, and this placed much weight and emphasis on the need for an extensive open data platform.

The Macau SAR Government Open Data Platform, launched in 2019, is a portal site that serves as a single point of entry for accessing open data supplied by various government entities. Almost all the interview respondents expressed a strong will that the government should take up the leading role in the smart tourism masterplan, and the availability of open data marks one of the key milestones in the roadmap.

Open data is a tremendously powerful resource for conducting research. Moreover, it is always regarded as a treasure for application developers, who may write apps that request information from multiple sources through application programming interface (API) calls and can provide up-to-the-minute information to mobile app users. For instance, someone decided to go dining in a particular restaurant in town and was thinking of driving to go there. The next thing he or she would need to figure out is where to park and if a parking space is available. The need to identify which is the closest parking facility and whether an actual space is available in real time creates an opportunity for app developers to respond to this need. This new application will need to add in two more data layers, overlaying one on the other: (1) restaurant and bar information (from the Tourism Office) and (2) public car park spaces (from the Transport Bureau), that is, open data coming and merging from two different government entities. At present, most data types found on Macau’s open data portal site are textual data, such as hotel names, addresses, contact numbers, etc. Geographic data, however, is still scarce on the portal site. Geographic data is useful because coordinates (expressed in latitude and longitude) are used to pinpoint geographic locations, through which we can visualize the locations on a digital map using a mobile device.

Macau’s open data platform is still in its early stage. The current portal site lacks option for an English version, and I hope that an English version will become available soon. I also keep an eye on the latest development of the open data portals from other places, such as Hong Kong, China (https://data.gov.hk/en), Portugal (https://dados.gov.pt/en), Singapore (https://data.gov.sg) and the United States (https://data.gov). The participation from the private sector in the open data initiative is paramount: location of ATMs, location of money changer shops, availability of parking spaces managed by private firms, routes of shuttle buses operated by private enterprises and non-profit organizations, just to name a few examples. The private sector’s engagement in this endeavour will make this project more meaningful and fruitful in the long run.