Macau is determined to become known as a world leader in diverse tourism and it is starting with what could be the only global industry that rivals gambling in popularity. Beginning next year, Macau will focus a lot more effort and resources on attracting sports fans following an agreement established between Macau leaders and the six licensed casino operators in the city. Each could host a major sports event every month for all of 2021.
Macau Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng explained this week that one of his top goals for 2021 is to bring international sports events to the city. He confirmed that this plan is already in motion and, in discussing the development with lawmaker Ma Chi Seng, stated that casino licensees are on board. He indicated that hosting an international sports events, or serving as a title sponsor for one, twice in the year would be the goal of each licensee, giving Macau a total of 12 events to put on the schedule.
Ho explained, “We have been talking to the gaming concessionaires to organize two of these events for each one. This means 12 events per year that will be held not concurrently, but tentatively one per month. The gaming concessionaires provided a positive response and from the end of this year; we are already doing some events that are possible to host like the [Macau International] Marathon and the World Table Tennis Championships.”
Elsie Ao Ieong U, the Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture for Macau, has reportedly already delivered a list of events that the city could bring in next year. Before any announcement is made, Ho will have to sign off on the suggestions, as he will make the ultimate decision on what types of activities Macau wants to attract. It won’t be an easy process, as the current COVID-19 situation could ultimately force changes to any potential schedule, and the Summer Olympics will be held in Tokyo next year, as well. He acknowledges that the process is going to be complex, but believes it will ultimately serve the city’s best interests.
He added, “All these events are of a large scale and have many participants from abroad. I need to give a reply to Ao Ieong U but this is difficult. We need to decide now and this is a big problem I have to solve right now. Not to do anything is the easy response but I can’t take such a decision. To cancel does not produce any positive effect. We can’t restrict our tourism sector services to just 600,000 people [the population of Macau].”
Macau hasn’t been completely devoid of major sports events – it hosts the Macau Grand Prix, which was still held this year despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and others. However, it is going to have to ensure it remains as flexible as possible in light of the coronavirus situation in order to build itself out as a global tourist destination for all types of activities.
Macau is already facing a crunch because the casino segment took a hit from the pandemic, and there is still a lot of uncertainty regarding how it will recover. As it stands now, the city’s plans for holding serious discussions about casino tenders in 2022 are tentative, at best, and delays in the tender process could be seen. The city’s leadership has asserted that everything will stay on schedule; however, that might not be possible, depending on how COVID-19 moves. Explains Dr. Zhonglu Zeng, a professor at the Macao Polytechnic Institute, “It is much more difficult to start discussions and negotiations or to reach practical agreements with gaming operators as well as investors during the COVID-19 period. The situation for the government is not particularly favorable compared with normal times. The government may be able to propose more suitable conditions and requirements in normal times, but right now, they might struggle to gain any positive responses from gaming operators. Uncertainties have increased, so, as a result, gaming operators might not want to give certain promises for the post-COVID-19 period.”
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