All eyes on Macau

New MICE projects, strengthened global transport links, and strong government support make this tiny city a head-turning MICE contender in this new decade

New attractions including the Macao Grand Prix Museum and MICE projects are set to attract international delegates looking to incorporate play into their business trips.

Macau may be small, but it packs in a powerful punch of historical beauty, grand architecture, tantalising cuisine, luxurious treats, and exciting programmes all year round. With its tourism allure already sealed by UNESCO's World Heritage Site stamp across over 20 historical locations, what's left is building its business infrastructure - and the Chinese territory has definitely aced that - running full steam ahead into the new decade.

Today, Macau punches above its weight as a global contender for conventions and exhibitions on the world stage, primed for exponential growth as it continuously announces new projects designed to drive tremendous tourism and business opportunities.

Internally, MICE developments include the highly anticipated Galaxy International Convention Center (GICC), supported by strong tourism products such as the upcoming Macao Grand Prix Museum - both opening this year. Externally, new plans are continually developed to maximise increased connections opened up thanks to 2018's launch of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, unlocking expansive new possibilities into China's recently developed 'Greater Bay Area' of 11 cities and special administrative regions - and the world.

The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge now offers 24-hour access into Macau from Hong Kong international airport, encouraging growth of large-scale corporate meets.

Advancing new opportunities
According to the Macao Trade and Investment Promotion Institute (IPIM), the MICE industry's strategy of giving "priority to conventions" began seeing results from 2017, where the value of the industry leapfrogged almost 150% to MOP3.6 billion (US$450 million), as compared to 2015. In 2018, private sector meetings accounted for 93.1% of all meetings held in Macau, and 1,427 conventions and exhibitions welcoming over 2.1 million participants in 2018.

Despite fluctuations in the global economy in 2019, Macau's tourism industry continued to benefit from the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, leading the IPIM to affirm that MICE development in Macau "is on the right track with steady growth," adding that results even "exceeded all expectations considering an overall slowdown in economic growth in the region and intense competitive activity [in the sector] within the Asia-Pacific region."

Also on the same track, the Macao Government Tourism Office (MGTO) in 2019 actively promoted tourism development in the Greater Bay Area. This included participating in international travel fairs and the 7th Macao International Travel (Industry) Expo (MITE), which saw tourism industry operators from cities across the Greater Bay Area; taking overseas travel trade on familiarisation visits to Greater Bay Area cities; promoting multi-destination travel experiences towards the Area and more.

"Last year was an excellent year because the inaugural bridge attracted tourists to Macau," shared Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes, director of Macao Government Tourism Office (MGTO) at their annual press conference on Jan 15, 2020. She also gave credit to the popularity of the Bridge for balancing repercussions from China-US trade relations and Hong Kong's social unrest during 2019.

Celebrity chef Andre Chiang shares his creative approach to gastronomy with delegates at International Gastronomy Forum 2019.

Creative City of Gastronomy
More travellers are planning their holidays around food thanks to Instagram's rising influence - business groups too - which puts Macau in a favourable light with its status as a Creative City of Gastronomy and member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network since 2017.

It is easy to impress even seasoned globetrotters with Macau's 19 Michelin-starred restaurants ranging from three-Michelin-starred Cantonese favourite Jade Dragon; two-Michelin-starred The Tasting Room; to two-Michelin-starred Alain Ducasse at Morpheus.

Companies with a focus on CSR will also enjoy their time in Macau - since key restaurant players are increasingly turning focus on sustainability practices and paring down on food wastage, while still whipping up delicious creations.

Dragon Portuguese Cuisine at Broadway Macau, for instance, prepares their food from scratch daily, firstly to keep things fresh, while also limiting food wastage by using what is necessary. Queues regularly form for the eatery's homemade curry crab and Portuguese baked duck rice. Over at ROOT, Chef Anthony Sousa Tam grows many of the menu's ingredients and even has its own in-house hydroponic system.

MGTO will continue pushing this aspect in 2020's destination marketing strategies, such as organising the International Gastronomy Forum, Macao, to promote cultural exchange with fellow Creative Cities globally.

Destinations that champion positive-impact tourism are gaining momentum - and Macau is definitely at the forefront.

Blending business and pleasure  
With the global traveller increasingly taking more effort to leave a light carbon footprint while holidaying, destinations that champion positive-impact tourism are gaining momentum - and Macau is definitely at the forefront.

In June last year, a total of 19 hotels received recognition at the Macao Green Hotel Awards, hosted by the local Environmental Protection Bureau (DSPA). It is easier than before to book hotels that have gone green, are making conscious effort in kitchen waste recycling, using electric vehicles, and embarking on other environment-caring measures. A quick list include hotel brands such as Galaxy Macau, MGM Cotai, Okura Macau, Sands Macau, Broadway Hotel Macau, Morpheus Hotel, and The Venetian Macao.

Continuing the green theme, beyond the bustling Cotai strip and the main city's hubbub is the charming Coloane, southwest of Macau. Although just 10 minutes away by bus, travellers can see an entirely different side to Macau thanks to the existence of traditional local ways, a thriving fishing community, serene temples coexisting with chapels, plus Macau's largest green areas.

Here, incentives groups could plot a nature walk along Coloane's popular 2.6km Hac Sa Reservoir family trail, adding a next stop at Seac Pai Van Park, which houses the 3,000sqm Macau Giant Panda Pavilion. Finally, wind down the day with a stroll along the black-sand fringed Hac Sa Beach, finishing the team bonding over a sumptuous seafood feast.

"We plan to be sustainable. The place must be liveable, with a good quality of life and activities for the local population," said MGTO's Ms Fernandes of her vision for Macau in the next five to 10 years.

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