All palates welcome

Macau is leveraging on its centuries-old history in gastronomy to attract incentive travel organisers

Macau knows where its strength lies. Even before the city was crowned one of UNESCO’s Creative Cities of Gastronomy two years ago, the city had been promoting its food culture, developed over hundreds of years, as a lure for both holidaymakers and business event groups.

The unique Macanese cuisine has its roots in Portuguese cuisine and was shaped by a blend of ingredients and cooking techniques from Malaysia, India, and even Africa, as well as the local Chinese population.

Colourful shophouses in Taipa Village house some of Macau’s most authentic gastronomy delights

According to UNESCO, Macau, once part of the Silk Road, is testament to one of the earliest and longest-lasting trading relatioships between the east and the west.

It comes as no surprise then, that the Macau Government Tourism Office (MGTO) has been leveraging on the city’s conferment by UNESCO to promote Macanese cuisine to incentive travel planners, under the Incentive Travel Stimulation Program.

The programme offers groups – that meet certain size requirements and are staying for a minimum of two days in Macau – experiences such as a half-day historic tour of the city, or a cultural performance of up to 30 minutes.

Last year, the tourism office partnered with Macau events management company smallWORLD to offer four incentive travel groups from Hong Kong an experience of baking Macau’s iconic Portuguese egg tarts, under the guidance of a professional chef.

Latent market
Beyond bringing local cuisine to incentive travellers, the government has been working to put the city on the international gastronomy map by attending food fairs and entering gourmet awards.

Despite this, Bruno Simões, director, smallWORLD, said that challenges in securing group reservations at restaurants are preventing more industry players from featuring Macanese cuisine in corporate event programmes.

He told TTGmice that restaurant operators are already occupied with catering to the city’s army of tourists – total arrivals came in at 39.4 million in 2019 – and are struggling with the shortage and high cost of manpower.

Nevertheless, rather than viewing these as limitations, Simões said that there is an “opportunity” here to tailor gastronomic packages for corporate groups.

Simões and his team have crafted a Macau gourmet discovery activity, part-treasure hunt and part-cultural education. It is offered to a wide range of groups with 10 to 500 people.

As participants need to work together in smaller groups to solve challenges that bring them through Macau’s alleyways and taste local specialities, the programme makes for a choice teambuilding activity. Also, smallWORLD offers groups the choice to go on an Asian or Western trail.

Covid-19 outbreak notwithstanding, smallWORLD is determined to keep pushing out more food-related programmes for corporate clients. A street food tour and a workshop that introduces participants to tea tasting are in the pipeline, revealed Simões.

Barcelona bar and restaurant specialises in Spanish tapas, and charms planners with themed spaces that are great for corporate gatherings

Hotels step up to the dining table
Some Macau hoteliers are recognising the opportunity to charm incentive groups through their belly, and are modelled their offerings accordingly.

According to Takami Koga, director of sales with JW Marriott Hotel Macau and The Ritz-Carlton, Macau, gastronomy has become a key consideration for meeting and conference organisers when it comes to choosing venues.

As such, both hotels have been incorporating Macau’s rich culinary heritage into their business events packages.

“This is the city’s competitive advantage; it gives events that dash of culture and character, reminding planners why Macau is a choice destination for successful events,” commented Koga.

Besides seeking to acquaint event attendees with local cuisine, the two hotels take into account the diverse dietary requirements and preferences of an international delegation. Food allergies, religious needs, and using gluten-free, organic and sustainable ingredients are all factored in when catering for events, noted Koga.

Koga’s team recently surprised a wine company with customised menus that featured dishes paired with the company’s own wine products.

While Macanese cuisine is a big draw for many corporate clients, JW Marriott Hotel Macau and The Ritz-Carlton, Macau also strive to offer home-away-from-home dining experiences.

“Once, we hosted a corporate group from Beijing, and we served da lu noodle, a comfort food found in the Chinese capital. Our Korean guests were offered marinated Korean side dishes and soju, which are off-the-menu items,” shared Koga.

The Taipa niche
One of Macau’s most well-known gourmet destinations, Taipa Village served as the official cultural partner of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards in 2018 and 2019. The heritage-rich destination provides an interesting juxtaposition to the neighbouring Cotai Strip, which is known for its glitzy casino resorts.

Here, travellers can find traditional shophouses, quaint, cobbled streets, niche shops, and of course, innovative dining outlets offering a range of cuisines, from traditional Portuguese and Spanish delicacies to modern Italian cuisine.

One player in Taipa Village that is targeting corporate groups is modern Spanish tapas bar and restaurant, Barcelona. Since its opening in September last year, the dining establishment has played host to several smaller-scale events such as corporate gatherings and wine tastings.

While each floor of Barcelona has a distinctive theme, what stands out immediately is the rooftop bar. Ideal for welcome receptions, product launches and private celebrations with up to 30 guests, the rooftop bar charms guests with a beautiful view of Taipa Village.

A short walk from Barcelona is another corporate dining venue, Bella Taipa, a four-storey Italian restaurant with a seating capacity of 30. Planners can choose from a range of traditional Italian dishes and reinventions of such dishes with a modern touch.

As Macau’s tourism sector recovers from the effects of Covid-19 on inbound travel and events, new and established food experiences may work well to rebuild planners’ interest in the destination.

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