Opinion by Desmond Lam
With China’s Golden Week come and gone, Macau and its executives are now facing a critical period of introspection. Despite the expectations, visitorship was down substantially from previous year. Many questions linger as Macau rationalizes for reasons why our visitors are not returning as they should – Did we not promote enough? Is it because of the need for nucleic acid test? Are we no longer attractive to them? Or is it because of the clamp down on cross-border gambling?
After all, the 8-day Chinese holiday saw hundreds of millions traveling within mainland China and pumping tens of billions of dollars to the economy. However, Macau is getting a smaller than expected share of that number.
To succeed, Macau must march forward as there is little time to waste. There is still hope and optimism for 2020 as year-end approaches, and even more so for the rest of the Year of the Rat, which ends in February 2021. Collectively, we shall welcome the Year of the Ox and farewell the ill-fated Year of the Rat.
Just as we tried to contain and mitigate our visitors’ fear of traveling outside of the mainland China for whatever reasons, we should nonetheless not let the fear of an economic meltdown haunt us. The pandemic that began at the start of the New Year, leading to lockdown and movement control, had a funny way of working itself into the psychic of ordinary Chinese people.
Over the past months, many of us have gotten used to the habit of avoiding crowded, public, enclosed space. We are also more wary of traveling long distance, over a long duration of time – be it a train ride or flight. The Golden Week has, however, demonstrated that many Chinese travelers are willing to defy such habits, at least when it comes to traveling within mainland China.
What can Macau and its executives do? Well, we can sit and wait for the vaccine and hope that, once discovered, people will start crossing the border. This will take time – but time is what we cannot afford to have and that there is no guarantee yet that vaccine will eliminate travelers’ fear of contracting COVID-19.
Or we can attempt to work closely with our neighbors to ultimately remove the need for nucleic acid test from our arriving visitors – but few of us can stomach the risk of potential infection spreading within a small and congested city like Macau. There are other more viable options in near term that include targeting the right segments.
For one, Macau needs to open up its border urgently with Hong Kong and begin welcoming back its Hong Kong visitors – people who are familiar with Macau and hold positive attitudes toward it. Our Hong Kong neighbors have a habit of visiting Macau for leisure and entertainment (including casino gaming), and are thus more likely to endure the discomfort and cost of nucleic acid testing in order to come to Macau. They are also most familiar with our city’s product offerings and are often responsive to our promotions.
On other segments, it is also time to get serious about targeting the Chinese Millennials, whether for gaming or leisure, as they form the bulk of potential visitors who are less fearful of COVID-19. Any promotion to target families with children need to be carefully considered as, despite a post-pandemic recovery in progress, many Chinese parents are protective of their kids and some may be wary of them getting overly-exposed during traveling; hence, they may not be the best segment to target.
On this note, single and married couples may be the most important targets of our city offerings and promotions.
Naturally, given current context, Macau should focus on short haul-short stay visitors. This would mean tourists within the Guangdong province, Hong Kong and even Taiwan. In short term, a decent (visitor) recovery from these regions may be sufficient to boost our tourism market. Unfortunately, these visitors are likely to minimize their crowd exposure and more cautious with spending during their trips.
In addition, Macau needs to ensure that its wellness programmes are well planned, executed and widely promoted to the rest of the world. For wellness, I mean measures regarding safety, cleanliness and hygiene. Wellness measures may include constant deep cleaning and disinfection, requirement for mask, social distancing measures, and can also include initiatives like having customer wellness advisors within each integrated resorts or in the city.
We should have measures that cater to both physical and, more importantly, mental wellness of our guests. An integrated wellness approach may be needed, with the government leading some of the key industry initiatives along with the integrated resorts. This form of integrated approach is likely to have a greater impact on mitigating potential tourists’ anxiety and fear. More generally, Macau will need more coordinated destination promotion via integrated communication efforts involving all the integrated resort operators, Macau Government Tourism Office, and other relevant businesses.
This should strongly convey our superior product values for a small international city versus other Chinese tourist destination options, pandemic success, and tourist wellness protection measures.
At the end of the day, there is only so much we can do with right targeting and communication. What is more important is to maintain high quality product offerings while continue to reinvent new products. Macau also needs to shake off its gaming-only image, which many people still perceive it to be.
To succeed, Macau needs to come together more than ever, to innovate and integrate (particularly on its non-gaming components), for example, via a series of successively new and innovative product launches that are beyond what we have now. These integrated launches can help provide additional, and fresh, tourism values strong enough to draw our visitors from their immediate post-pandemic traveling habits (i.e., traveling within their comfort zone). Imagine having successive launches that include Londoners in Cotai Central, special shopping spree promotion in Venetian, Lisboa Palace and Lisboeta, live mega fountain performance with performers at Wynn Palace, high tech visual shows at Morpheus, drone cum laser shows at Galaxy Macau, and plus different cultural shows at various UNESCO sites across the city. In other words, a coherent offering of highly salient values will be needed in future planning in order to attract back our usual Chinese tourists