IFT researcher: 50 million visitors, as long as the city and its residents are ready for them

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The city will be able to handle the estimated increases in tourists predicted in the new tourist development plan – presented by the Macao Government Tourism Office (MGTO) – regardless of whether it stays above or below the 40 million mark by 2025, as long as Macau has a plan and adapts to it, according to Leonardo Dioko, Professor at the Institute for Tourism Studies (IFT) and Director of IFT’s Tourism Research Centre, speaking to Business Daily. The tourism Master Plan presented by the MGTO estimates that total visitor arrivals could increase to a minimum of 33 million in a low visitor scenario with growth of 1 per cent per year, or it could go as high as 40 million in a modest visitor growth scenario with 5 per cent yearly growth. According to Dioko, adapting to that increase will require meeting challenges such as “developing and managing the necessary land resources, infrastructure, human resources (both quantity and quality), and transportation systems, as well as visitor facilities to absorb such a number.” Ready or not, here they come Professor Dioko believes that the paramount factor is not whether Macau is ready for this quantity of visitors, but if Macau residents will be ready. “This depends utmost upon whether that future number of visitors will enhance, rather than degrade, residents’ quality of life. Just as important, Macau will need to develop innovative non-gaming visitor attractions as well as events or activities to ensure [that the] visitor experience and satisfaction remain high,” Dioko told Business Daily. The annual Macao Tourism Carrying Capacity Study, released last year by IFT, determined that the most appropriate number of visitors that the city should handle per year shouldn’t exceed 33.7 million. However, the IFT’s Tourism Research Centre director mentioned how in 2006 visitor arrivals to Macau totalled around 18.7 million, increasing to 30.7 million ten years later in 2015, without an extensively negative impact upon the city. “Why hasn’t Macau imploded? That’s because that rapid growth was accompanied by a commensurate massive development in Cotai, border crossing facilities, shuttle buses. To be fair, there were major hiccups – some of which still exist: Traffic congestion, overcrowding, deterioration in public transport systems, underinvestment in residential housing, delays in the light rail development, and many others. So, to be well ready for the next 10 years, we need to heed the lessons of the last 10,” Dioko stated. Flexible capacity The researcher believes tourism capacity in Macau to be a “dynamic variable, not a fixed or static concept” that can be managed through three angles: allocating a certain amount of available resources in the form of tourism facilities, maintaining a high service quality and satisfactory visitor experience, as well as residents’ tolerance of day-to-day living conditions. “If any of these three conditions change for the worse, Macau’s carrying capacity contracts significantly. If any of these three conditions change for the better, either in quantity or quality or both, we can take on more visitors, even if they already seem many,” Dioko told Business Daily. Dioko believes that the government’s presented solutions – such as improving the capacity to explore waterfront resources – “make a lot of strategic sense, as they would likely decongest the often-crowded historic city centre,” while the use of applications that inform people of high concentrations of people would also be helpful in terms of safety and ensuring a satisfactory experience. The professor believes that “finally” adopting a tourism master plan would alter Macau’s tourism destination management from a reactive stance to one that is forward-looking, focused on long-term objectives, and “something that all of us can agree upon.” “But let me be clear. Whether the plan foresees a 30 million a year or 40 million a year annual visitation, we should stick to the plan. If, 10 years from now, 50 million visitors want to come, we should – according to the plan – de-market Macau. If somehow we fall far below what the master plan foresees, then we should upshift our tourism commensurately, in accordance with the plan. Once all, if not the majority, of the community agree to the plan (post consultatively), then it becomes incumbent upon all of us – industry, community, government agencies – to make it work. No more, no less,” Dioko told Business Daily.