For many, the bridge connecting Macau and Zhuhai to Hong Kong is a disappointment, but for the experts heard by Macau Business, the benefits are obvious.
MB November 2020 Special Report | Getting in and out
When we asked the Chairman of the Council of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in Macau how to make the Hong Kong Zhuhai Macai Bridge (HZMB) more attractive for Macau tourism, Ku Weng Keong insisted on putting a stop to the conversation: “with only one year of data, it may not be suitable to conclude that the bridge brings a lot of tourists to Macau, but it does impact our tourism. It is not recommended Macau to blindly chase the number of tourists, but to strive to improve the quality of travel in Macau.”
As a mega infrastructure in the world “which contains a potential sightseeing value,” it is important to bear in mind that “fully extending the access right to the bridge may cause a large number of tourists to go into Macau, just like the situation when many tourists went to Tung Chung in Hong Kong at the beginning, causing trouble to local residents.”
But the Chairman of the Council of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in Macau has no doubts that “the right of driving on the bridge should be gradually released, so that it can contribute more to the daily commuting between Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macau.”
This widening of the ‘belt’, which is still very tight, must be followed, says Ku Weng Keong, with improvements in the access to the bridge from Macau and HK, “before the usage can be increased.”
Currently, the connection between Hong Kong International Airport and the HZMB Checking Facility at the Hong Kong side “still has rooms to improve, and in some ways, affects visitors using the bridge to access Macau,”
Professor Ku reminds that on the Macau side, there is only one road leading to the Border Checking Facility in Macau, which is connected to the Macau road network via a temporary crossing. “In the future, there will be the Fourth bridge, additional bridges to Macau road network and potentially a Light Rapid Transit (LRT) spur line connected to the proposed East Line.”
“When all these materializes, trips between Macau and Hong Kong, or the Hong Kong International Airport in particular, will be much improved, or even become seamless, and it would be an important factor further enhancing the connectivity of Macau, and easing the ways international visitors to access Macau,” states the Chairman of the Council of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in Macau to Macau Business.
In 2019, there were 5.4 million tourists visiting Macau via the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, accounting for 13.7 per cent of the 39 million tourists accessing Macau, and the number of tourists in 2019 increased by 10 per cent compared to 2018.
And if the 2020 numbers will turn out to be very negative, it is important to understand the context.
“If there weren’t the protest and COVID in HK early this year – states Tian Li, author of a Master thesis about the bridge – I think they are the right track to have more tourists commuting as well as more logistic business using the bridge (Maybe not in a large scale but at least larger than the year the bridge just built) as Zhuhai is building many infrastructure to support the HZMB simultaneously during the passing 2 years. However, given the ‘two black swans’, the bridge now is in an embarrassed situation, but I wouldn’t say it was built too soon.”
José C. Alves, Professor of Management and Dean of the Faculty of Business of the City University of Macau, also understands that it is not the best time for balance sheets: “Due to the pandemic situation it is not reasonable to judge the level of mobility in the Greater Bay Area, or anywhere else in the world, including the use of the HZMB.”
“Nevertheless, I consider that the bridge continues to be an important infrastructure, but its full use and benefits will be achieved only in the long term. In the short term, I believe that we can move faster in this direction if governments have will and work faster on integrating technical systems of the three regions, such as car registration,” states to Macau Business Mr Alves, co-author of the research “Macau’s Business Clusters: Present and Future.”
Tian Li adds more arguments: not only the bridge is the first within few steps of building the big Bay Area in China “so I wouldn’t say the flaws will hamper the benefit it would bring in next 5 to 10 years,” but now there is another bridge being built to connect Zhongshan and Shenzhen “and it will better connect both sides of Pearl River in together with HZMB. Thus, I would love to make the conclusion about whether it is a ‘phantom bridge’ in 2025 but not now.”
Ku Weng Keong agrees: once land transportation is the most popular way for visiting Macau (74 per cent of tourists come to Macau through the land ports, where the Barrier Gate is the busiest port which burdened half of the tourists in 2019), HZMB “benefits Macau not only getting the tourists who directly visit Macau, but also who travel via Hong Kong, Zhuhai, or even other cities in the GBA.”
The most important is the bridge brings ‘quality of travel’: “In the past, there was no land transportation connecting Hong Kong and Macau. The opening of the bridge is filling this void and providing a more comfortable option for traveling between Hong Kong and Macau,” says Professor Ku Weng Keong to Macau Business.
The author of thesis Appraisal of decision making on large scale transportation infrastructure project: Case study of the Hongkong Zhuhai Macau Bridge in China adds one more argument: “I think the major function of the bridge for Macau is more on logistics side as we have better entrance for tourists to enter Macau at present, i.e., Gongbei Port. Tourists of Macau usually will pay a visit to Zhuhai before or after they are visiting Macau so it makes more sense to use the Gongbei Port. However, with the development of Henqing, I am sure the city centre will be gradually move closer to the HZMB. At that time, HZMB will probably be the first choice for tourists as it is closer to Macau airport as well as Zhuhai airport,” concludes Tian Li, with a MSc in Maritime Economics and Logistics.
“Very few benefits to the locals”
Wang Chit Wong is the author of an Honours thesis called How does the mega-project of Hong Kong-Zhuhai and Macau Bridge impact the local people in Hong Kong? (2019), intending to study how HZMB impacts on locals of different socioeconomic status and in different residential locations.
“This research found that the HZMB has very few benefits to the locals,” state the author. “The benefits are on travelling and economic aspects. However, the HZMB has major social and cultural impacts.”
“Overall, this thesis concluded that the social and cultural impacts of the HZMB has outweighed its economic benefits,” says Wang Chit Wong.