Macau and hotel meeting planners await easing of border restrictions

Dependence on domestic travel and local business events will provide some relief this summer

Hong Kong: the MICE market is expected to get going again in September; trips will be shorter and for smaller groups on reduced budgets.
Hong Kong: the MICE market is expected to get going again in September; trips will be shorter and for smaller groups on reduced budgets.

HONG KONG - The MICE trade in Hong Kong and Macau is anxiously awaiting news of the re-opening of its borders, especially with China.

“We are quite worried about our business and we think the closure of the borders and restrictions are too tough,” says Mr Bruno Simoes, managing director, DOC DMC and SmallWORLD Entertainment, and president of MISE (Macau Meetings, Incentives and Special Events Association).

“I think a bubble will happen – with terms and conditions of course. There is a lot of pressure from the whole industry in Macau, but unfortunately that still doesn’t mean business events.”

The lion’s share of Macau’s inbound visitors, leisure as well as business, come from mainland China, with Hong Kong being the secondary market, making this bubble an urgent and essential step for the territory.

In Hong Kong, hotels are as keen for the relaxation of borders. “It is critical for the government to open borders and boundaries and lift restrictions,” said Mr Peter Borer, COO of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels Ltd on the HKTB’s Global Online Forum. “The current quarantine is detrimental to our industry.”

At Wharf hotels, Mr Dalip Singh, GM of Marco Polo Hotels – Hong Kong, is optimistic about a return to relatively normal operations. “As most companies have resumed or will soon resume normal operations and the Hong Kong government has announced the exemption for directors and executives of specified listed companies from compulsory quarantine arrangement, we are expecting the return of business travellers first, rather than leisure travellers from overseas.”

The hotel is promoting special room rates and meeting packages with social distancing measures included, and have seen increasing enquiries for the second half of 2020.

“We understand the unprecedented situation of COVID-19 is difficult for event planners, and therefore we offer flexibility and options on date changes for organisers,” said Mr Singh. “After social distancing was relaxed [allowing gatherings of up to 50 people], we received more enquiries on local social events, corporate meetings, exhibitions and as well as company gatherings.”

The team at Island Shangri-La, Hong Kong, has been maintaining connection with their leisure and business guests through social media and email, with their ‘Shangri-La Cares’ commitment for health, and safety and flexible cancellation policies as incentives for booking.

“The demand for group business is still in the early stages of recovery for H2 2020,” said Mr Ulf Bremer, GM, Island Shangri-La, Hong Kong.

“With the relaxation of social distancing, the hotel is receiving more enquiries for local catering events, wedding banquets and small meetings. Hong Kong is a small area in close proximity so organisers will not spend budget on providing accommodation for events like this,” he added. “We are working with a repeat client for an event in November and we are assisting them to build a contingency plan in case the group is affected by travel restrictions or other new policies.”

While Mr Simoes is optimistic that a small amount of leisure visitors will visit Macau from mainland China this summer, he expects the MICE market to get going again only in September, and then it will be trips that are shorter and for smaller groups using less budget. With a skeleton schedule of government, industry and local affiliation events on the books for later this year, his expectations are low.

“Companies in general would like to continue with incentive travel and meetings, but for any kind of business events the scale will be smaller. According to our experience in the past when we had crises, programmes still continued but (they were) targeted similar activities on a smaller scale and reduced budget. And that’s what we expect now.”