n a press conference at the Macau Tower on 28 September. the Macao Government Tourism Office (MGTO) has announced the setting of a 40-million visitor target for 2025, a 29 per cent increase over 2016, as part of their first Tourism Industry Master Plan in 15 years.
Last year an average of 84,800 visitors arrived each day; the projected goal would increase that number to 110,000, or about 18 per cent of Macao’s population. Accommodating such an influx, particularly in a city with a population density already among the highest in the world, requires planning and smart solutions to address issues of traffic congestion, overcrowding, and decreased quality of life faced by residents.
The plan, which also looks to more than double non-gaming revenue to US$13–14 billion, relies on external factors remaining stable. It assumes the central government will continue to allow the current high level of tourist arrivals, no wars or major turmoil in the region, and no major natural disasters or epidemics. Such assumptions may not be realistic – Super Typhoon Hato devastated the city in August, leading to a week-long suspension of tourist packages – but the modest forecasts used in setting goals allow for more flexibility in circumstances. The experience of Hato also prompted new efforts from other parts of the government to improve the city’s preparedness and responsiveness to disaster. Their work will undoubtedly contribute to the overall success of the plan.
One significant factor the plan does account for is the growing competition in tourism, from both established travel destinations and eager newcomers. Cities across Asia are racing to build museums, theme parks, shopping centres, and performance venues. Governments see tourism, already a USD 7.61 trillion industry globally, as one of the most promising industry sectors of the next 20 years. Personal incomes are rising in nearly all Asian countries, and air travel is becoming more convenient and often cheaper. When it comes to new builds, Macao is at something of a disadvantage due to its small size and limited land availability.
Neighbouring Hengqin is both a partner and a competitor. With 106 square kilometres of land – over three times that of Macao – it is aggressively building tourist attractions and convention and exhibition facilities that challenge those in Macao. But it cannot challenge the city in gaming: the central government in Beijing remains adamant that it will not allow this in any other part of the national territory.
Other Asian countries, though, have begun establishing their own casinos. The latest challenger is Japan, which legalised the casino industry in December 2016. Both Sheldon Adelson, chairman of Sands China, and Lawrence Ho, chairman of Melco Resorts & Entertainment, have said they want to secure a Japan gaming licence. A Global Market Advisors study estimated Japan could become the second largest market in Asia, after Macao, and the third in the world, after Las Vegas. Japanese already spending billions each year on other forms of gambling; pachinko alone took in US$209 billion in 2016.
The Master Plan lays out a comprehensive approach to diversify, expand, and strengthen the city’s tourism sector beyond gaming, to realise the vision of Macao as the World Centre of Tourism and Leisure.