Home to a total of 41 casinos, Macau is the entertainment hub of the Greater Bay Area and receives a steady flow of tourists from mainland China—2.52 million out of the 3.43 million arrivals recorded in January 2019.
Similarly, Chinese exhibitors and participants are central to Macau’s events and exhibitions sector. According to its Statistics and Census Service, Chinese representatives made up a quarter of 5,618 exhibitors in 2018 while 39.6% were from Macau.
The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, which opened last October, is expected to bring in more visitors from Guangdong province and Hong Kong, although sea arrivals remained higher in January 2019 at 583,542, compared to 443,908 who used the bridge.
The roadmap for the Greater Bay Area, announced last month, outlines a more efficient clearance procedure at the bridge in addition to increased capacity at the immigration ports.
“I believe this is a great initiative, it will be interesting to see what concessions are made and how the concept of opening up a ‘free trade zone’ between the three cities [two special administration regions and the mainland] ends up materialising,” says Olinto Oliveira, director, live communications, MCI Macau.
Infrastructure developments such as the bridge, however, are likely to have more impact on the events and exhibitions business. “The number of people crossing the bridge during the weekend is massive," Oliveira says, adding that for cities like Macau and Hong Kong that rely heavily on tourism, ensuring that the immigration process is "as painless and smooth as possible goes a long way in being able to sell it as a destination to clients”.
Nevertheless, event planners may need a little mindset shift when it comes to selling Macau as a destination for incentive travel, events and exhibitions. “Macau is strongly perceived as an entertainment-only city, which isn't true," says Oliveira. "The city has done a lot in the past five years to diversify the type of attractions it provides, become a more family-friendly destination, and provide an extremely competitive MICE offering."
He acknowledges that Macau remains a fairly new events destination, but points out that its biggest strength is the vast event spaces available, mainly condensed into the Cotai strip.
“This allows for an easy one-stop location for large exhibitions and conferences to take place for regional businesses,” Oliveira adds.
He suggests that venues and the Macau Meetings, Incentives, and Special Events Association, of which he is a member, should be active at trade shows to educate corporate buyers about the city. A natural, word-of-mouth campaign may also be helpful, he adds.
"As more marquee groups hold events here, [it] will surely help to change that perception, but of course these things take time, so patience is required," he says.