Macau bridges MICE gap

With the opening of the world’s longest cross-sea bridge linking Macau with the Greater Bay Area, the city’s business events future is on the right track

The exhibition business in Macau demonstrated stable growth in 2018, having hosted 60 exhibitions – an increase of nine events year on-year – and welcomed more than 1.8 million delegates, an increase of 10 per cent over the previous year. Of that total, 1.4 million delegates came from 25 exhibitions that each drew 20,000 or more delegates.

While these numbers are trending upward, Alan Ho, chairman of the board of directors for the Macau Convention & Exhibition Association said Macau can do better, adding that the destination has fallen behind in terms of exhibition business because of the larger focus on conventions.

He said the city also has a number of hurdles to overcome before considerable growth in exhibitions can be expected.

“Macau’s exhibition business only took off recently,” Ho said. “However, I hope several major challenges can be addressed. First, Macau lacks professional buyers. Second, Hong Kong is already renowned as a logistics and commercial hub, and Macau cannot compete right now. Third, venue rental may not be expensive in Macau, but with booth construction and logistics costs, expenses end up higher than Hong Kong. Finally, stringent customs regulations in China make exhibiting commodities and material from the Gongbei Border (of Zhuhai) into Macau extremely slow and costly because they are taxed. This is daunting for organisers.”

Regardless, Ho projects that the exhibition sector will have “single-digit growth from 2019 to 2020”.

On a more positive note, the world’s longest cross-sea bridge linking Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macau is expected to boost B2B business within the Greater Bay Area (GBA).

The Macao Trade and Investment Promotion Institute (IPIM) said the goal is to integrate Hong Kong and Macau with nine mainland Chinese cities in the GBA. In addition, the bridge now offers 24-hour accessibility to Macau from the Hong Kong International Airport, and this is expected to have a positive long-term impact on the growth of large-scale corporate events.

Mark Cochrane, managing director of Hong Kong-based Business Strategies Group said that it’s too early to see an impact on events in Macau, but he expects improvements will be made further down the road.

“The impact on the Macau MICE industry will be longer term as the GBA integration continues. As infrastructure continues to improve, Macau will enjoy better connectivity around the region. The bridge is already starting to see growth in traffic and usage, which will help Macau in the long run.

“But if you ask about the impact of the bridge on MICE events, I haven’t seen the driver of change yet. It may take five years for the integration of GBA, so I am looking at a five-year window,” Cochrane said.

He pointed out that with government support, Macau has done really well in the past five years in terms of net exhibition space sold, which has increased from 140,000m² to 220,000m².

“The Macau government and IPIM are committed to grow not only the exhibition business, but meetings, incentives and conferences too,” Cochrane noted.

Elsewhere in the city, Macau’s integrated resorts are optimistic that the bridge will bring more exhibition business over the long-term.

Stephanie Tanpure, vice president of sales for Sands China, said: “We feel that with the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau-GBA initiatives, we may see positive business impact, but this is probably years down the road; potentially 2022 is when we will see a substantially developed (area).

“We are also very excited that the bridge supports the GBA initiatives in terms of mobility, connectivity and collaboration, as (such initiatives will) play a vital role in elevating Macau’s competitiveness in the global meetings industry.”

Tanpure shared that Sands China has some “exciting projects they are working on”, and are confident that as these are brought to the market, positive results will follow and the international meetings business will continue to grow.

Victor Lau, assistant senior vice president, hospitality and leisure sales, of Galaxy Macau, shared that he has started to receive new business events enquires thanks to the new bridge connection.

“The opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is exciting for the Macau MICE market, as overseas guests can enjoy more convenient transportation and flight options.”

Cochrane added: “You’ve got The Venetian Macao’s huge event space and Galaxy Macau is also building a new space. It’s good to have strong venues like these to help grow Macau’s MICE business.”

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