“Transport and accessibility are aspects that affect Macau’s competitiveness”
There is a lack of strategic vision and interdepartmental coordination to improve Macau’s competitiveness as a destination for events and conventions, says Bruno Simões, businessman and president of the Macau Meetings, Incentives and Special Events (MISE) association, in an interview with PLATFORMA. The quality of transport infrastructure and the experience offered to visitors are elements that limit the growth of the sector
The deputy president of the Institute for the Promotion of Trade and Investment (IPIM) predicted between 700 and 1,000 conventions and exhibitions in 2023. In January he considered that reaching this number was possible, do you still have the same opinion?
Bruno Simões – These estimates were extrapolated from figures for 2019. At the time, I actually thought this number was possible, but I had a wrong perspective of what was going to happen in the market. When the junkets [VIP game promoters] business was almost eliminated it was expected that hotel room prices would become cheaper, similar to what happened on previous occasions. Junkets booked several hotel rooms and those left over became more expensive. What I didn’t anticipate is that what happens now is even worse. The rooms that are not reserved for junkets are reserved for the premium mass, who need even more rooms.
Currently, a weekday costs around 2,000 patacas in a hotel like the Parisian. These are high prices and now my prospects, and that of my hotel colleagues, for events this year are not the best. At the moment, an improvement maybe only after the summer. Hotels now need rooms for premium mass gamblers, which is bad for the events and conventions sector.
One of the problems he identified for resuming a full agenda for the MICE industry was human resources, which are scarce at the moment. Is it something that can only be reinforced with local talent, or is it necessary to import labor?
B.S. – This recovery is taking time. The first effects of the opening were only felt in February during the Chinese New Year and it is still only March. It will take many months. First you need quotas, then you need to select and recruit, train, integrate, and miracles don’t work. It will take a few months for the teams to be minimally rebuilt. And this also leads to a rise in prices, as there is a lot of demand for leisure services and restaurants, they raise prices to compensate for the resources they have.
The covid-zero policy forced the exodus of some events traditionally held in Macau. Do you believe in an eventual return?
B.S. – When it comes to business events, there is a very low demand. We at least feel it. Some operators that had pending events from previous years that never took place and that will take place this year. But in terms of demand for international events, demand is very low. We have virtually no orders for
conferences in Macao. The only market we have is from Hong Kong, they do small things, they spend only one night, one day. Prices are expensive and they too have now emerged from a prolonged crisis. We don’t even have orders and demand from the international market yet. The fair sector in Macau is what it is. The fair that was lost was G2E Asia, the only one that Macau had for obvious reasons, given our gaming industry. The other fairs are heavily paid for by the Macao government budget. The MIF, the MIECF, and other fairs that are very oriented towards the government market are heavily subsidized by the government.
G2E Asia will have another non-gaming event per government directives. For me, it is a strategic mistake and a shot in the right and left foot for the government not to have pressured to have this fair in Macau. Pushing to have it, but focusing on non-gambling elements comes out of the advantage that Macau has in the area.
Does Macau still have comparative advantages, particularly when compared to cities like Singapore or Hong Kong?
B.S. – My criticism related to Macau is mainly its strategic vision of wanting to be an International Center for Tourism and Leisure while lacking coordination and strategy to improve many aspects.
The experience of visitors, for example, from arrival, through immigration, taxi queues or lack of taxis. General transport is quite deficient, all this is a very big strategic mistake.
Is the development of transport and access essential for the development of the event and convention industry?
B.S. – In Hong Kong we get to the so-called immigration or the taxi queue and we have people who help us, in Macau they don’t exist. In Hong Kong we have enough taxis, not in Macau, people wait an hour at the airport. Sometimes you have to wait an hour or more at the airport. All things that everyone has felt and knows.
Lack of strategic vision to solve the problem. There is no interdepartmental coordination, a ‘task force’ created, for example, to solve these problems.
Nor is there any idea of transforming the experience from arriving in Macau to arriving at the hotel, into an experience at the level of Hong Kong or Singapore. It’s not talked about, I don’t know why. There is no justification for this experience in Macau to be bad or below average, either at Portas do Cerco or at the Maritime Terminal.
Transport and accessibility are aspects that affect Macau’s competitiveness in terms of visitor experience. There is a strategic lack of government to solve the problem. I would say to create an intervention team with all the responsible departments and that’s it, it doesn’t cost anything. Why is it so difficult to take a taxi? Add another 500 cabs. Established interests win less, but patience.
How do we have about 40 million visitors a year but not enough taxis? Taxis in Macau are more expensive than in Hong Kong and they don’t even exist, it’s a very serious problem. The visitor experience is bad, and it’s something the visitor will never forget.
Therefore, is this competitiveness and attractiveness in terms of events affected by the quality and infrastructure of transport and tourist offers in the city?
B.S. – We have excellent hotels and restaurants. Everything offered by five-star hotels is competitive at an international level, but from the moment you leave the hotel, it becomes a deficient service. An example of this is the village of Taipa, where there is not a single terrace or tables outside.
How is it possible? Why is Taipa village a collection of restaurants, small by nature, and there isn’t a better experience for the people who go there? It is said that the weather is bad, but in Hong Kong and Singapore there are terraces, only not here. Why don’t we have concerts in public spaces anymore? The Iec Long Panchões Factory was recently renovated and reopened, but it does not have a single space for events, something could be done there as was done in the former prison of Hong Kong in Lan Kwai Fong, a historic space with restaurants, terraces and centers of exhibitions. The pier on Lake Nam Vam is only occupied once a year and is a place that could be used for a cocktail event. Fortaleza do Monte, a completely unoccupied space, could also have something, restaurants and terraces for private dinners, events, conferences, etc.
In Macau there is a concept that public spaces are not for private events, which does not happen in other countries. The event always says yes and for us to propose, we propose and then they tell us no.
Macau loses a lot of competitiveness there, the organizers see the fantastic facilities and ask to have a gala dinner or event outside the unique hotel, and they cannot.
However, concessionaires have also announced several investments in non-gaming elements and infrastructure. In terms of infrastructure, do concessionaires already have what is needed for events?
B.S. – I think it’s good to finally press [with the concessionaires] to fulfill the promises. In the 20 years they let operators do whatever they wanted, but now we’ve gone from 8 to 80, they ask them for money for everything, to support promotional actions, I think they ask too much. As far as hotel infrastructure is concerned, I think things are going well, more shows are expected, but this is not enough to give us a competitive advantage. There has to be a strategic vision of the city, analyzed and implemented interdepartmentally to improve the arrival and departure experience.
The most glaring lack of cooperation is between the Directorate of Tourism Services and the Institute for the Promotion of Trade and Investment, which does not exist. There is a gray area between what are business and tourism events. This division that was made more than 10 years ago, for me, was a strategic mistake, just because IPIM organizes the MIF does not mean that it should be responsible for the MICE. It doesn’t have the same international presence or the same structure. IPIM goes to business events and does not take materials on tourism, and tourism goes to fairs to promote Macau and has nothing on business events. It doesn’t fit anyone’s head.
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