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Can influencers help Macau tourism?

Carol Law

Globally, using digital influencers as a method of promoting businesses and tourist attractions is already a common method of promotion. However, in the case of Macau, analysts consider that although it is useful to promote some aspects of the city, this trend also has disadvantages.

Since January 8, the number of visitors to Macau has been increasing, as a result of the relaxation of border restrictions and the exemption from nucleic acid tests and quarantine upon entry.

As the tourism industry recovers, concerns about how to implement the official direction to expand the home base of foreign visitors also grow. Many of the neighboring regions reopened their borders and saw tourists return long before Macao.

According to an article published by scholars Zhou Wenjing, Yin Ping and Meng Qingrui of Beijing Jiaotong University in the magazine “Global Gaming and Tourism Research” of the Polytechnic University of Macau in 2022, Macau’s attractiveness to neighboring countries and regions (Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Philippines, India and Vietnam) had already weakened between 2016 and 2019, that is, before the pandemic, with the possibility of Macau being overtaken by other countries.

The article also points out that Macau’s tourism market has not kept up with the rapid growth of the Chinese mainland market, indicating that the “development of Macau’s inbound tourism has entered a period of stagnation”.

Exposure through influencers, a global trend

After the reopening of the border to the outside, the Directorate of Tourism Services (DST) has been working hard to promote Macao. In addition to inviting Hong Kong digital influencers to visit Macau in January and February to promote Macau, MGTO also invited delegations from the tourism industry of Hong Kong and Taiwan to visit Macau.

Macau’s tourism promotion programs were broadcast in mainland China, and MGTO also relaunched the Greater Bay Area Roadshow on 18 February.

In terms of international marketing, DST said it plans to first relaunch its representative offices in South Korea and Thailand and review the needs of each market in order to reorganize its global marketing strategy and for its network of representative offices. . At the same time, the department revealed that it will maintain communication and cooperation with the tourism industry to strengthen the synergy of overseas representative offices and promote tourism to Macao in various ways.

MGTO previously described that the 19 Hong Kong influencers who visited Macao on January 8 and 9 were “effective in promoting” the city, immediately attracting Hong Kong residents to visit Macao SAR.

“They made 290 posts and temporary updates on various social networks, reaching over 2.7 million people and achieving nearly 90,000 interactions and 3 million views.”

Using some international statistics as a reference, for example in Australia, online travel platforms are attracting more international visitors.

International studies show that online channels are the main sales channels for global tourism, accounting for around 60 to 70 percent of total sales, and still growing. In Europe and the United States, nearly 20 percent of people use the internet and social media to find inspiration for their new vacation destination.

According to some studies, influencers have a 9 percent and 18 percent influence on gaming and travel products or services, respectively.

For Glenn McCartney, Professor of Integrated Tourism and Hospitality Management at the University of Macau, the influence of online celebrities varies from market to market.

Statistics from mainland China show that the influence of online celebrities on tourism decisions can exceed 20 percent.

McCartney agrees that the use of digital influencers – or Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) as they are known in China – to promote a destination is common practice around the world and has some effect.

The academic explained to PLATAFORMA that there are many factors that lead a consumer to visit a place, not just the indication of an influencer. “Of course it’s a good idea, but we also have to look at the effectiveness, the level of success and whether it can activate a new leisure market in Macau,” he says.

Rutger Verschuren, Vice President of Artyzen Hospitality Group, highlighted that selecting the right influencers requires a high level of understanding of your presentation and target audience, as well as a careful analysis of their experiences and areas of expertise, not just the amount of traffic they receive.

“Currently, the public is often suspicious that these influencers are paid and prefer to investigate about a destination or hotel through ‘authentic’ guests. They already know how to judge and separate authentic content from paid content,” he tells PLATAFORMA.

“At the end of the day, KOLs are a great way to promote destinations and hotels these days, as long as the influencer stays authentic and targets the right audience.”

José Rodrigues, president of the Macau Live Association, also agrees that the current trend for the tourism sector involves internet promotions.

Rodrigues points out that as time is limited for online videos, it is usually necessary to choose a few key points that can be selected for the video, which is why live broadcasts are sometimes preferred as they offer greater flexibility and have a longer duration that allows for presentation. more detailed content.

“For anyone who wants to be very detailed, I think it’s difficult to do so in the world of online short videos.”

Large-scale festivals and unique cities

Lo Chi Leung, President of the Macau Hoteliers Association, tells PLATAFORMA that in order to attract international visitors, it is important to promote Macau tourism not only through the internet but also offline.

“MGT has offices in many countries and regions abroad to provide tourist advice and promote Macao events. Every year, the Macao Government promotes various local events, such as international music festivals, food festivals, the Grand Prix, international marathons, international conventions and exhibitions, etc. through various promotion methods,” he states.

“The authorities also organize tours to promote tourism in the target countries, and this has all yielded good results.”

The association president added that the Macao Government is now planning to regularly organize a series of major events, which it believes will “undoubtedly” revitalize the community, attract visitors to the city, boost the economy, and improve the attractiveness of the Macao SAR, including for foreign visitors.

But, in Glenn McCartney’s opinion, before launching a promotion, it’s important to know what might work, not just “hope” it will work.

“The most important thing is to be a unique destination. As I always say, what are the unique characteristics of the city? Many people answer that we have festivals and food. But every city has a marathon or a food festival. So how can we differentiate Macau from other cities? How to spread this message further? That’s the challenge,” he says.

The professor at the University of Macau points out that currently only a small number of international visitors from Europe, the United States and elsewhere visit Macau, and that it will be difficult to attract international visitors in the short and medium term, not only due to the current connections and transport options between Macao and other regions, but also for its image.

“We have to clearly distinguish ourselves from all other cities as a tourist destination. Tourists who have to spend six or seven hours flying will think hard about which destinations to go to. ‘Will it go to Singapore or Macau? What do these cities have to offer, for me and my family?’”.

McCartney believes that since visitors from neighboring regions have not visited Macau for three to five years, it is not a bad idea to promote the city through influencers to places like Hong Kong that have frequent trips to Macau, as a kind of “reminder”.

In terms of attracting international visitors, in the short and medium term, it is good to start with neighboring countries.

“I think we should look at resources and what is achievable in the short and medium term, which are regional audiences. If we draw a circle around Macau that represents a three-hour flight distance, that will be our audience. Our focus should be on some of these regional markets within Asia,” he explains.

“If the focus was on the Middle East, Europe or Asia-Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, America, we would have to do a slightly different campaign. I agree that, in the short and medium term, the focus should be regional. We have to look at what we can have and where we can get faster results.”

A nuisance for residents

Members of the North and Central Zone Community Services Advisory Board pointed out during a meeting on March 2 that some online celebrities from the interior had recently entered private properties to perform videos and ‘check-ins’ on social networks, activities they believe promote behaviors

Council members also revealed that there are cases of tourists using drones to take pictures or film videos in public places without authorization.

Deputy Ron Lam tells PLATAFORMA that after three years of the pandemic, the flow of tourists has clearly recovered and the authorities should do their best to minimize conflicts and pressures between tourists and Macau residents through measures such as publicity, education, or diversion of tourist flows.

Lam also indicated that it is normal to promote Macao through digital influencers, but that the current fashion of online celebrities should not be prioritized, as some influencers may exaggerate their opinions to attract more views.

“I think word of mouth from tourists is the most important factor. If we put too much faith in promoting through influencers, it can backfire when tourists arrive and find the attractions don’t match what they’ve heard. I think it’s more practical to do a good job of supporting our tourism industry and promoting cultural diversity,” says the deputy.

“With the right policies in place, there will naturally be people who can help promote us as a tourist destination, rather than blindly trying to attract unlimited publicity.”

Lam also points out that advertising resources could be diverted to the off-season, and that support facilities could be adjusted to take advantage of the current recovery in the tourism sector.

“If Macao does not have adequate support facilities and manpower, it will affect the experience of tourists.”

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