Macao: From glitzy casinos to quality tourism

Sitting on the western side of the Pearl River Delta in southern China, the Macao Special Administrative Region has taken 20 years to transform itself from a place dependent on casinos to a modern city looking to further expand its tourism opportunities.

Governed by the “one country, two systems” principle with “Macao people administering Macao”, and enjoying a high degree of autonomy, the region has seen its GDP jump from US$6.1bil (RM25.4bil) in 1999 – the year it returned to the motherland – to US$54.56bil (RM227.1bil) last year, an increase of more than eightfold.

On the 20th anniversary of returning to the motherland, Macao is well prepared to seize the opportunities to capitalise on its strengths to serve the country’s needs.

Macao’s strength is demonstrated through two roles it strives to play in the new era – as a world-class tourism and leisure centre and as a trade co-operation service between China and Portuguese-speaking countries.

The tourism industry has long been Macao’s economic pillar.

Last year, official data showed the industry accounted for 72.2% of the city’s GDP. The number of visitors to Macao rose from 6.94 million in 1998 to 35.8 million last year.

“Macao only has a population of about 670,000. But that small population is capable of serving more than 30 million tourists,” Pansy Ho Chiu-king, a well-known Hong Kong-Macao businesswoman said. “This proves Macao’s strength in tourism and hospitality, which will serve as the foundation for building a world-class tourism and recreation centre.”

The Macao International Fireworks Display Contest takes place every year. — MGTO

Ho added the country’s unstinting support had been a crucial ingredient in the development of Macao’s tourism sector.

In the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15), the central government pledged to support Macao’s attempts to become a world-class tourism and recreation centre. In 2015, the China National Tourism Administration and the Macao government signed an agreement and set up a committee to co-ordinate assistance from the mainland and the local government’s work.

In recent years, Macao has recast its image of being gambling focused to one of Asia’s top resort-and-entertainment hubs with an eye on the mass consumer market.

MGM Resorts China – a joint venture between MGM Resorts International and Ho – opened the opulent US$3.4bil (RM14.15bil) MGM Cotai casino resort early last year. The opening added further spice to the battle along Macao’s Cotai Strip to offer non-gaming attractions in a bid to lure more mass-market consumers instead of gamblers.

Macao’s push to diversify tourism has also been given greater relevance as regional competitors, notably Vietnam, South Korea and the Philippines, have upped the stakes with the opening of a string of plush casino resorts in the past few years, with more planned in the future.

As a former Portuguese colony, Macao enjoys language advantages and has well-established ties with nine Portuguese-speaking countries across four continents with populations totalling 260 million.

The emerging trade ties between China and the Portuguese-speaking countries have made Macao vital to taking co-operation to a new level. Official data show that China’s direct investment in Portuguese-speaking countries reached US$399mil (US1.66bil) in 2016, a jump of 263.7% from 2015.

The SAR could help mainland enterprises import materials such as crude oil and agricultural products from Portuguese-speaking countries which have abundant natural resources, said Ma Youli, president of the Macao Chamber of Commerce.

Macao could also help those enterprises develop markets in South America and Africa, where major Portuguese-speaking countries are located, he added.

Efforts are also being made to better play out Macao’s role as a platform for bilateral co-operation. In 2017, the headquarters of the China-Portuguese-Speaking Countries Co-operation and Development Fund was relocated from Beijing to Macao.

On Aug 25, Ho Lat-seng, former president of the Macao Legislative Assembly, was elected chief executive of the Macao Special Administrative Region. He will succeed Fernando Chui Sai-on as the third chief executive of Macao, pending approval by the central government.

He said the new administration will prioritise housing and transportation, two deep-rooted problems the SAR faces, and that the new government will intensify co-operation with mainland cities to attract talent.

With new roles at hand and a new chief executive eager to get to work, Macao is poised for a brighter future. – China Daily/Asia News Network

Shine bright like a diamond

The 30th Macao International Fireworks Display Contest took place on Oct 5, carrying the theme, Duo Celebrations for Macao. As many as 12 fireworks teams from all over the world took turns to present their fantastic presentation that day.

The top prize went to Marutamaya Ogatsu Fireworks from Japan, while teams from China
(Liuyang New Year Fireworks Trading) and France (SAS BREZAC Artifices) took the first and second runner-up prizes respectively.

Each year, the contest attracts many companies from around the world to participate in the spectacular show. Malaysia, too, sent one team to participate: Blastmaster Sdn Bhd. The company is said to produce over 200 fireworks shows in the country annually. The other countries who joined this year include Japan, the Philippines, France, South Korea, Britain, Romania, South Africa, China, Canada, Portugal and Australia.

Since its inaugural edition 1989, the Macao International Fireworks Display Contest has become one of Macao’s signature annual mega events. – Melody L. Goh

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