OPINION – Sustainability and Diversification: Macau’s Post-2020 Resolution

At the point of writing this article, it is amidst the pre-delivery stage of Macau government’s 2021 Policy Address and towards the end of 2020 – a year that many people in the world are staggering their way through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

By Sandy Sio 

Vice President, Supervisory Council, Macau Institute for Corporate Social Responsibility in Greater China (MICSRGC) 

Back to the time when the first ten COVID-19 cases were identified in Macau, which was within less than a month before the Lunar New Year holiday (conventionally one of the peak gaming revenue periods of each year), the Macau casinos experienced the longest closure in history, for a period of 15 consecutive days in February. Since then, the gaming industry, tourism and other economic sectors have suffered from the suspension of inbound visitation from Greater China and overseas. The visitation permits from Mainland China were resumed gradually as the city managed to maintain its record of zero new cases over the past four months (the last confirmed case to date was diagnosed in June). The recovery of gaming revenue, tourist arrivals and business volumes of retail and services, however, was still far lower than the pre-COVID-19 levels. This recession has increased the city’s unemployment, and pay cuts have become common in the private sector, which has brought economic and mental stress to an increasing number of families. The government has to inject stimulus from its fiscal reserves to revive the economy and support the livelihood of its residents, despite the limited income received from gaming revenue over the past few months, and the prolonged absence of other meaningful sources of income which can contribute to Macau’s public budget. 

While the overall direction in the government’s 2020 Policy Address was focused on remediating the immediate social and economic adversities of the pandemic (mainly through a series of financial assistance measures), various stakeholders are expecting that the upcoming policy goals after 2020 will draw a more detailed sketch of some key socioeconomic issues that will pave the way for Macau’s future development, especially in preparation for post-COVID-19. In order to sketch an outline, we looked into the messages delivered through the official press releases disseminated during the current year (a simple media content analysis). Unveiled and presented to various stakeholders during the recent pandemic, we find that sustainability, diversification, and social responsibility are the keywords that have been emphasized as viable solutions to those social and economic adversities. 

Sustainability is about meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In Macau, casino gaming has been the dominant economic pillar since the establishment of commercial gaming in this city decades ago, and this dominance has become even stronger since Macau’s casino industry liberalization in the early 2000s. Macau has experienced high economic growth driven by a booming casino industry, and as a consequence depends on this gaming revenue for the city’s socioeconomic institutions. A few incidents threatening a gaming revenue downturn have alarmed the local community. In the aftermath of the SARS epidemic in 2003, the global financial crisis in 2008, as well as the effect of mainland China’s anti-corruption campaign and stringent financial regulations since mid-2010s, several economic diversification measures have been implemented to diversify gaming and non-gaming industry structures, the tourism market profile, and to develop emerging industries. Macau, however, remains economically and socially dependent on casino revenue and visitor and resources inflow from mainland China as the outcome of these measures has been very modest, giving rise to the same alarm when COVID-19 hit Macau. 

Recently, the government announced a public consultation on Macau’s urban master plan (2020-2040) which outlines several objectives for socioeconomic diversity and environmental protection. Further to the strengthening of the existent measures, it will be critical to develop particular sectors that have high growth potential and which can boost collaboration with the local community and the regional partners, such as tourism and leisure, niche financial services and innovation. These may include related service sectors and education of relevant knowledge and skills. Another trend worth noting is that other countries and regions have been mapping the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) when they undergo urban planning. To build an international cityscape, it would be timely to bring these goals to public awareness in Macau. 

Social responsibility is a core value leading towards sustainability. When individuals and organizations bear this in mind in their decisions and actions, they will be able to consider the wellbeing of themselves and other stakeholders, as well as the economy, society and environment. When many sectors in Macau were shut down earlier this year due to the pandemic, various large-scale entities in Macau were called upon publicly to take up the social responsibility to secure local employment, maintain business with small-and-medium scale enterprises, and procure merchandise to support the community. Especially heading towards the countdown of preparing for the new casino concessions after the current concessions’ expiry in June 2022, it is anticipated that a formative definition of social responsibility will be introduced through the upcoming process of public consultation. Therefore, we shall observe in detail and learn from everything which has happened during this period, so that we can shape the city’s future direction to achieve sustainability and diversification when each individual and organization becomes proactive in taking up their roles of social responsibility.