Macau’s Legislative Assembly is set to debate measures that the proposer says would address the “negative impact” brought about by the increasing number of visitors to the city.
The debate proposal came from pro-democratic legislator Sulu Sou Ka Hou. The board of the assembly agreed to the principle of holding such a debate, but that still has to be confirmed by the other members. The date for such a decision is yet to be set. The proposer nonetheless has suggested representatives from Macau’s government should be invited to take part in any approved debate.
In his proposal, Mr Sou questioned how the goal of developing Macau as a “world centre of tourism and leisure” – a policy aim of the local authorities that has been endorsed by the central government – could be compatible with the “overwhelming” number of visitors to the city, as well as what he described as “worsening leisure conditions” and “very limited sources of international visitors”.
The total of visitor arrivals to Macau in full-year 2018 was nearly 36 million, up 9.8 percent when compared to 2017 and more than 56 percent higher when compared to the visitor tally a decade earlier in 2008, when it stood at 22.9 million, according to official data.
In 2018, more than 25.26 million visitor arrivals were recorded from mainland China, approximately 71 percent of all arrivals that year. Arrivals of visitors from neighbouring Hong Kong accounted for nearly 6.33 million entries, nearly 18 percent of the 2018 tally. Visitors from markets outside Asia accounted for only 7.5 percent of all arrivals that year.
Macau’s land mass covers only 30.8 square kilometres (11.89 square miles), according to the latest data published by the city’s Statistics and Census Service. The city has one of the highest population densities in the world, at about 21,100 people per square kilometre.
Mr Sou claimed in his proposal that one of the local policies precisely designed to ease tourist congestion in central areas and spread prosperity to other traders around the city – i.e., directing some tourists to outlying neighbourhoods – had itself caused problems. His motion mentioned disruption to road traffic conditions and an increase in noise. He also claimed that higher rents paid by businesses “setting up shops for tourists” were pushing small companies out of the commercial property market in such neighbourhoods.
The legislator urged the Macau government to consider the possibility of introducing a cap on the tally of inbound visitors to the city and to assess the impact of diverting tourists to local neighbourhoods.
Research published in 2015 by the city’s Institute for Tourism Studies (IFT) suggested that the optimum tourist carrying capacity of Macau stood between 32.6 million and 33.7 million visitors in 2014. The study estimates were based on a survey conducted in 2014 and it mentioned the possible negative impact on the perceived quality of life of residents and the travel experience of visitors.
The authors said at the time that additional hotel room capacity would “not prove efficient” if there was no corresponding enhancement in other areas such as public transport and quality of services aimed at tourists.
Despite the launch of a number of new hotels, one of Macau’s major transport infrastructure projects – the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system designed to move visitors and locals swiftly around the city – has faced several delays. The Taipa-Cotai section of the LRT is scheduled to be operational in the second half of this year.
The topic of local resident sentiment regarding tourism has long been discussed and debated. Another study published in 2015 by hospitality scholars from the University of Macau – Glenn McCartney and Winnie Lei Weng In – suggested that local respondents were expressing negative sentiment towards tourism, related to factors such as traffic congestion and inadequate public transport.
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"There’s a huge amount of possibilities out there and in the case of Macau, it seems that some of these issues should be considered or we may lose the epithet of gambling capital of the world"
Macau-based lawyer and senior partner at law firm Rato, Ling, Lei and Cortés