Web Summit, the annual technology conference held in Lisbon, Portugal has just ended with more than 71,000 attendees present.

During four days between November 1 and 4 about 2,630 startups and exhibiting companies, 1,120 investors, and 1,040 speakers from all walks of life held talks on almost two dozen stages.

After having the chance to attend the event in my home country for the first time since it relocated from Dublin to Lisbon in 2016 I was struck by how long it had been since I attended an event of such magnitude.

Of course, the event is not free of faults. I witnessed plenty of organizational missteps from a camera falling on the public on opening night to neverending entry lines in the rain.

The event’s benefits to his host city aside from improved international status among the well-to-do digital business class are also debatable, while the choice of speakers can sometimes appear solely based on who’s trending more on social media recently.

Still – like a chaotic music festival with a good band line-up – hundreds of people still gather to witness a dynamic and frank debate of ideas, philosophies, and business concepts.

After all, at what event you can either choose to listen to a debate on AI with Noam Chomsky, an interview with the CEO of the world’s largest crypto exchange, or listen to the President of East Timor?

Any Chinese presence at the event was also minimal, aside from a Hong Kong investment entity and some Chinese media partners, despite the global powerhouse status China holds in the tech world.

It’s also sad to remember how large-scale international events were common in Macau before Covid-19 pandemic-related restrictions brought all similar gatherings to a halt.

According to data provided by the Statistics and Census Bureau, some 449 conventions and exhibitions were organized in Macau in 2021 attracting 1.4 million participants – almost all from the mainland – representing a decrease of 70 per cent and 90 per cent, respectively, compared to 2019.

Just recently a debate panel expressed organized by Macau Business and the Rui Cunha Foundation noted that decisively removing standing Covid-19 pandemic restrictions was crucial to recover the ailing Macau SAR Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions (MICE) sector.

The last three years have been arduous for the local MICE industry, limited to mainland-linked events and plagued by forced last-minute cancellations.

Just as movement restrictions for mainland package tours are expected to be removed another series of mass testing prompted by Zhuhai linked case again triggered cancellations of multiple events.

At the same time, a seven-day quarantine remains for every non-mainland arrival, while our neighboring SAR has basically completely removed entry restrictions and is seemingly open for business again.

Meanwhile, in Macau no one can guess the timeline for a return to the good old days of free movement. Until then the local MICE industry will still have to make do with what is given.

It is important to be clear on this, Covid-19 didn’t decimate the Macau MICE industry, pandemic restrictions imposed by the central government – and by proxy the SAR government – did.

We’ve seen Asia’s largest gaming industry event, G2E Asia decidedly move to Singapore after multiple delays and it will take a long time for any international event to feel confident enough that they can return to Macau safely.

Of course, the local MICE sector can still make do with the usual trade and business shows impulsed by government subsidies or state-backed enterprises, but how does this fulfill its intended role as an international event city?

How can local MICE businessmen plan for the future if they can’t even fathom the government’s health policies timeline?

Until clarity is restored we will just continue to see events migrate to greener pastures while expensive large expo complexes in Macau casinos gather dust.

[MNA Contributing Editor]