Cultural tours to experience Macau’s rich heritage are on the rise but careful development is needed for MICE groups to benefit from them.
An emergence of cultural tour operators in Macau in recent years is paving the way for more quality and insightful destination experiences for visitors, and providing greater opportunities for planners to satisfy their delegates’ desire for unique and memorable destination experiences during business events.
One of the pioneers in this specialisation is CoForte Organisation Development, which started offering cultural tours focusing on art, history and culture for special groups since 2016.
Brian Yau, the company’s vice president for creative strategy, sustainability and CSR, told TTGmice that the demand for cultural tour inclusions is on the rise among his corporate clients.
“More than 60 per cent of our clients would choose cultural tours when they select Macau as their event destination. They favour indoor activities such as azulejos (Portuguese ceramic tiles) painting as well as art and music jams,” he said.
CoForte works with DMCs by designing and offering experiential activities for the corporate client, leaving the DMC to take care of supporting logistics.
Yau thinks that unique, experiential activities are growing on the back of “homogeneous MICE products”, forcing planners and event attendees to crave “more special and in-depth tours”.
Another player that is leading the cultural experiences revolution in Macau is Macau Explorer Cultural Travel, established in 2014. Its managing director, Manuel Wu, was an urban planner before he made a career switch to the travel industry and took a chance at specialising in walking tours that spotlighted Macau’s 400-year history. He never looked back, and today offers cultural experiences to corporate and association groups.
Despite the presence of these cultural tour specialists, Macau’s ability to offer truly immersive destination experiences for event delegates is hampered by capacity limitations and a lack of variety.
Wu said traditional facilities in Macau tend not to be able to accommodate large corporate and association groups.
“For instance, a Portuguese baking class in a local cake shop will not be able to take more than 70 people at once,” he explained.
Olinto Oliveira, director for live communications with MCI Group, added that “the local market has yet to offer a wide variety (of authentic local content) from multiple suppliers”.
“Our clients do not want a standard tour, they prefer something that is organically embedded into their programme, such as classes on baking Portuguese egg tarts, Asian tea ceremony masterclasses and azulejo painting workshops,” he added.
A vague understanding of what experiential tours mean has also led travel agents to offer the usual sightseeing tour around a heritage area of Macau plus a narration of its historical background, and nothing else.
Industry leaders acknowledged that such tours were not experiential at all, might be of poor standards, and would put the destination’s image at risk.
To tackle this challenge, the Macau government, through the Macau Government Tourism Office (MGTO), has curated the Step Out, Experience Macao’s Communities walking tour series. Eight walking tour routes are available, with details on the route and featured attractions for each captured on its website and a dedicated mobile app. The latter guides visitors down the routes, allowing for independent exploration and is perfect for business event attendees looking to extend their trip in Macau for leisure.
The walking tours vary in duration, from 25 minutes to 40 minutes, and tell different stories of Macau’s culture and heritage.
For instance, the Crossroads of China and Portugal route takes 24 minutes to complete and introduces the participant to eight sights such as Senado Square, Mandarin’s House. It focuses on architecture and districts with a strong Chinese and Portuguese influence.
“MGTO has been doing a good job (in this aspect), but it is not enough,” opined Bruno Simões, president of the Macau Meetings, Incentives and Special Events Association.
“Macau has limited alternative programmes and experiences to offer. This is clear to see when you compare Macau with other destinations listed on TripAdvisor. Much more must be done to develop these programmes and support companies and individuals that work in this area.”
Yau sees an opportunity for MGTO to work closely with tour specialists like CoForte to expand the destination’s portfolio of experiential tours.
He said: “We could develop the tours together while MGTO could exercise quality control and promote good quality tours.”