OPINION-Staycation enigma

By the end of every month, the statistical department publishes data on the previous month’s excursions and hotel occupation. The data for December is just out, and we have, therefore, a picture for the full year. The immediately obvious conclusion is that this was a bad year. There is nothing new or unexpected there, except perhaps the coldness of the figures. 

Take December, usually a good month. Its excursions summed just three thousand people – or just about 0.5 percent of the more than half a million recorded in the previous year.  The full-year results are only marginally better, mainly thanks to a still ‘normal’ beginning of the year. 

Most indicators fell: numbers of hotels, rooms, beds, guests, you name it, all saw their values decline. Occupation rates overall went down ‘only’ by 40 percent. They benefited, if we can use the word here, from the fact that the drop in overnighters was not as dramatic as the one in same-day visitors – and possibly also the reduction in the number of available rooms. 

That is the tone of most of the numbers. However, the data bring also a couple of surprises that raise some relevant questions. Indeed, the average stay of guests increased in 2020, compared with 2019 – as we might expect. It went up from 1.5 to 1.6 nights. The surprise is not that it went up, but that it has risen so little. 

Several reasons could concur to push for more extended stays. The collapse in the sea and air transportation reduced the number of short-stay visitors, namely those arriving in transit to other destinations and shuttling coming from Hong Kong. Other visitors had ‘forced’ extended stays due to difficulties returning to their points of origin or traveling to subsequent destinations.  

Additionally, many residents were encouraged (and had little alternative) to spend their vacations locally. Many hotels made promotions directed at them.” And yet, the average duration of stay hardly budged. If the figures include the hotel quarantines imposed on locals returning to Macau, the number is even more surprising. 

For all the talk about ‘staycations,’ the number of locals registering at hotels went up only slightly by just 3.2 percent. But, startlingly, their length of stay was half the one reported in 2019. That is, 2020 brought just a few more guests and much shorter stays: now, that’s a thought-provoking outcome.