Much work to be done

Shedding a gambling city image and raising service standards and accessibility may boost Macau’s fortunes in winning association events

Macau’s numerous historical sights, such as the Ruins of St. Paul pictured here, can add an element of fun to solemn congresses

While Macau, which sits across the border of commercial hive Hong Kong and boasts a strong collection of swanky hotels armed with convention facilities, has been a hit with corporate meetings and events, data from the destination’s Statistics and Census Service showed that association gatherings made up only 13 per cent of 263 meetings and incentives hosted in 1Q2014.

According to a spokesman with the Macao Economic Services, association events make the “second largest contributor” to Macau’s total event count and the government is keen to further sharpen the destination’s appeal in the minds of associations.

The ongoing Convention and Exhibition Stimulation Program, initiated by the Macao Economic Services, offers confirmed meetings a series of financial support, such as 10 per cent off accommodation costs at local hotels for a maximum of five nights, and round-trip transportation coverage for no more than four key decision-makers who are travelling for event bids, with the amount capped at MOP40,000 (US$5,010) per person.

Paul Kwok, general manager of the 791-key Grand Hyatt Macau – a property that is no stranger to corporate meetings and association congresses, thanks to its extensive selection of meeting spaces – acknowledged that “more business associations are being established in Macau, so this is a very important segment for us”.

Kwok pointed out that business events in general “constitute a big slice of our annual events revenue and this is seen to grow as Macau (expands)”.

However, in Kwok’s opinion, two key challenges can thwart Macau’s courtship of more association meetings. Firstly, most associations regard budget as their top priority when choosing and booking an event space, and therefore most do not consider five-star hotels – a category of hotels in abundance in Macau.

“The next challenge – and the biggest – is Macau’s ability to bid and win association events (away from) Hong Kong. Because of Macau’s (proximity) to Hong Kong, many associations have chosen (the latter),” he said.

For Peter Hassall, managing director of MCI Group Macau, an association management, communication and event management company, Macau’s reputation as a gambling city poses an obstacle as such destinations are avoided by associations.

“Therefore, it’s vital to change the perception of Macau and the Macau Government Tourist Office is working to educate the market,” said Hassall.

While Hassall applauds Macau’s compactness, which means numerous hotels, venues and attractions are within walking distance to each other, he admitted that the “city is not quite there yet for large association meetings, in terms of service level”.

“Meanwhile, Macau’s accessibility will improve in the next few years when the Hongkong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is completed and high-speed trains connect Zhuhai with Macau. I would also like to see more push for direct flights, especially from longhaul destinations,” he added.

Like most major tourist destinations, Macau is also burdened with a manpower shortage. To remedy this issue, Macau’s Institute for Tourism Studies has been nurturing graduates specialising in business events. The institute also informed TTGassociations that the government has funded numerous training programmes in this area to prepare the workforce in meeting the demands of this event sector.