José I. Duarte
The Chinese New Year brought to Macau a huge number of tourists. Final numbers have yet to be determined but possibly close to two million people crossed the borders. With crowded public areas, the disruption of transportation, and stretched services, the full tally has yet to be made. However, it is enough to look at the many photos taken at various places in the city to become clear that some actions must be taken, if the benefits from the tourism industry are to be made compatible with both its sustainability and residents quality of life.
The issue is not new. Since at least 2009, the rising wall of visitors has put increasing strains on the city and its population, suggesting that a more managed growth would be forthcoming. As has been the case in other instances, the lure of the fast buck has trumped more prudent and sustainable approaches. That may be changing – and better late than never. The New Year peak, for all its negative impact, may have provided the required trigger to make an appraisal of the situation unavoidable.
According to media reports, the Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture stated the intention to review the operation of the Individual Visa Scheme with the Mainland authorities. As an increasing number and share of tourists come from the Mainland, that is certainly the point at which to start. It is a necessary step if some moderation, or even reversal, of the existing trends is to be achieved. It is too early to know what the Secretary has in mind and what the elements of such negotiation might be. But this is not a matter of numbers alone, as not all visitors impact (or benefit) the region in the same way. It is important, therefore, that the issue is not framed in terms of the total number of visitors only. I suppose we need a more subtle approach.
Over half of the visitors to the city fall into the category of same-day visitors. They, and especially those on packaged tours, put a high level of stress on the city. They stay, on average, just a few hours in town, are on the move most of the time, rush to the most popular places during the same periods – and, in the end, spend little on local commerce. A policy crafted to limit visitors from the Mainland should, therefore, focus primarily on limiting the number of this type of visitor. Conversely, it should be calibrated carefully in order to allow even stimulate an increase in the number and sources of overnight visitors and to encourage them to stay longer. They visit more places, do it in a more leisurely manner, make wider usage of the local services and facilities and spend much more. A rise in their numbers should be encouraged.
José I. Duarte