Understanding how mainland tourists perceive Macau

Study involving IFTM scholar investigated user-generated content from TripAdvisor to shed light on perceptions of Macau as a destination

Research Corner | A partnership between Macau Business and the Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM)

Knowledge of how tourists from mainland China perceive Macau as a travel destination is important because it can have an impact on how the Macao Tourism Industry Development Master Plan should be implemented. That is according to a study involving a researcher from the Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM), which looked into user-generated content to evaluate Macau’s destination image as perceived by visitors coming from mainland China.

The researchers concluded that mainland Chinese tourists generally considered Macau as ‘a leisure tourism destination with a unique selling point on gambling’. The findings were based on an assessment of user-generated reviews of trips to Macau, published on the popular international travel website TripAdvisor.com and its Chinese version.

The work went on to discuss the links between the perceived image of Macau and the city’s Tourism Industry Development Master Plan. The researchers proposed that the Macao Government Tourism Office (MGTO) make use of user-generated content to assess the tourism potential of various attributes of the city, redirecting resources to those areas that tourists identified as appealing.

The study was produced by IFTM scholar Dr Qi Shanshan, in partnership with Dr Ning (Chris) Chen from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Their paper, titled “Understanding Macao’s Destination Image through User-generated Content”, was published in the Journal of China Tourism Research.

The study was funded by Macau’s Science and Technology Development Fund.

Cultural potential

As part of their research, Dr Qi and Dr Chen collected a total 1,584 reviews on Macau posted by mainland Chinese tourists on TripAdvisor and its Chinese version.

According to their findings, the repositioning of Macau’s destination image “to being more ‘cultural’ is promising and has an empirical basis”. Such repositioning is one of the strategies featured in the Macao Tourism Industry Development Master Plan, a document published in 2017 by MGTO.

The researchers said that their findings indicated ‘historical sites’ were an important component of Macau’s image. Tourists from mainland China had the impression Macau had a “mixed Chinese and Portuguese lifestyle, which is unique,” Dr Qi and Dr Chen wrote. “These results provide evidence to support the claim that Macau has great potential to develop into a cultural destination,” they said.

The researchers had a different view regarding the emphasis put by the Macao Tourism Industry Development Master Plan concerning the need to provide comprehensive quality services across various areas of the tourism industry. “There are no significant concerns raised on service quality in Macau from mainland Chinese tourists’ online reviews,” they pointed out. According to the study’s findings, mainland visitors described the city as clean and easy to navigate, with special praise given to the standard of service at local hotels.

“However, service quality in casinos may require improvement, since the term ‘bad’ was mentioned several times,” Dr Qi and Dr Chen acknowledged.

In their discussion of the Macao Tourism Industry Development Master Plan, the researchers noted that the document lacked “depth” in terms of the proposed segmentation of the tourism market and respective targeting strategies. The plan “does not conduct any detailed analysis on understanding the segments of mainland Chinese tourists or suggest any specific future actions to deal with each segment,” the researchers said.

As part of their study, Dr Qi and Dr Chen highlighted the role of user-generated content as an information source regarding tourist perceptions of Macau as a destination. In relation to Macau, the researchers added, heritage sites, and shows and entertainment were “clearly two major themes” in which visitors from mainland China showed interest.

The two scholars said: “For the heritage attractions, the comments still centre on the major or so-called famous heritage sites in Macau.” To develop further Macau’s tourism industry, “MGTO needs more effort on promoting its various heritage attractions to separate the focus from its major sites”.

The Macao Tourism Industry Development Master Plan was designed to position Macau as a world centre of tourism and leisure, mapping out an overall plan for tourism industry development. According to MGTO, the plan is currently being reviewed, in response to changes in the tourist market and the development of the tourism industry.

– The researchers

Dr Qi Shanshan is an invited assistant professor at the Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM). She holds a PhD from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s School of Hotel and Tourism Management. Her research interests include computer technology applications related to tourism, and tourism/hospitality website evaluations, data mining, and destination marketing.

Dr Chen Ning (Chris) is a senior lecturer in marketing at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. He has PhD from the University of New South Wales, in Australia. His research interests cover place attachment, resident/tourist psychology and behaviour, and destination branding.

– The paper

Shanshan Qi and Ning (Chris) Chen: “Understanding Macao’s Destination Image through User-generated Content”, Journal of China Tourism Research, Volume 15, Issue 4, pages 503 to 519, 2019.