By Poyi (Natalie) Leung
President of the Macau Travel Industry Council Andy Wu Keng Kuong advised the Macau International Airport to specialize its role in order to survive in the even more furious competition some years later, when the airports in the Pearl River Delta are within reach as a result of all the transportation projects aimed to make mainland China and the two SARs even closer to each other.
He also called for the local airlines to open Macau as a transit point which will be a more “practical” strategy and also be able to enrich the source of tourists at the same time.
Speaking to the Macau Daily Times in an interview last week, Andy Wu said the local travel industry’s top concern is how to increase the source of visitors coming to Macau.
This, he said, is about increasing air routes inbound to Macau and also sea routes to neighbouring airports.
“Particularly we’re eyeing on visitors from Southeast Asia and the newly emerged markets such as India and Russia. More and more people from these two countries are travelling aboard in recent years,” Wu said.
Europe, the US and Canada are not yet the travel industry’s targets due to high costs, he added.
As for sea routes, Wu said Macau can increase ferry services to the Hong Kong International Airport since Hong Kong has more developed air routes.
“That way Macau can take advantage of the Hong Kong aviation market and thus doesn’t need to open new air routes by itself all the time.”
In addition, Macau’s travel industry hopes that the SAR government can discuss with the Chinese central government about receiving the same treatments as Hong Kong.
“Shenzhen residents can get one-year multiple entry visas to Hong Kong and its non-permanent residents can also travel to Hong Kong on the Individual Visit Scheme. We hope this measure can also be extended to Macau and Zhuhai,” Wu told the MDTimes.
Moreover, the industry believes that tourism-related administrative regulations need to be revised urgently in order to solve the “long existing problem” of inadequate foreign language speaking tour guides in Macau.
In the past three years the number of tour guides has grown continuously but most of them can only speak Mandarin besides their mother tongue, Wu said.
At present there are more than 1,000 licensed tour guides in Macau.
Yet, Wu said the industry is particularly lacking English, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Thai and Russian speaking tour guides.
He agrees that as a long term, local tour guides need to upgrade themselves to speak at least two foreign languages, but he said this can’t be achieved in a short period of time.
“Not that we didn’t train tour guides, but learning a language takes a long time.
“The travel industry is an ever changing market, this year we need more Japanese speaking tour guides, but perhaps one or two years later we don’t need them anymore. So it’s necessary to import minority language tour guides to cope with the problem.”
The future of Macau’s aviation
Andy Wu said the Macau airport needs to improve its facilities but any expansion is unnecessary, or otherwise its role and function will be “overlapped” in the near future.
“We’ve been talking about reforms and the merge of the Pearl River Delta. Discussions must have to be carried out on how to make sure mutual cooperation and coordination instead of vicious competition among the airports,” he added.
Macau, in particular, could concentrate on business air routes because of its gaming portfolio just like what Las Vegas has been doing, Wu pointed out.
“With even more advanced transportation in the future such as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and the ‘one-hour inter-city circle’, we’ll have four international airports around within reach.
“We must have to think how to divide labour among these airports, which I believe is one of the ways to improve the Macau International Airport’s business,” he continued.
Division of labour is particularly significant between Macau and Hong Kong, Wu pointed out, because border crossings are getting more and more convenient between the two SARs and their requirements for visa issuances are not too much a difference.
In addition to increasing air routes, Wu also suggests the SAR government opening Macau as a transit point since the cost will be much lower than setting Macau as the destination.
“For example, flights departing from mainland China can fly to another country via Macau. If this can be done, the number of air routes coming to Macau can be enriched in a short period of time,” Wu said.
“Since Macau only has about half a million population, it’s relatively hard for an airline company to operate routes independently with Macau as the destination,” he added.
When asked what the Macau airport can do to attract more local residents or tourists to fly from Macau instead of from other neighbouring airports, and whether Air Macau needs to offer more competitive fares, Andy Wu told the MDTimes “this is a company’s internal operation matter”, adding “it’s hard for the Macau government to help as it is impossible for it to subsidize residents whenever they choose to fly from Macau.”
However, Wu added that Air Macau has changed its strategies in the past year and thus increased its competitiveness in the market.
“Air Macau has launched promotional air tickets and the fares for flying to a Chinese city from Macau are getting closer to those of domestic flights. So we can see that the number of mainlanders flying Air Macau operated flights to Macau has been on a rise,” he said.
Moreover, the recent Viva Macau incident has, “with no doubt”, impacted on the travel industry of Macau, since the carrier used to help bring tourists mainly from Southeast Asia to Macau, according to Wu.
Wu believed low-budget carriers certainly have room to survive both in Macau and the world, but whether they can succeed or not depends on “their own business strategies and operations.
“Low-budget carriers are an international trend in the world aviation industry. There is more than one low-cost carrier flying to Macau and some of them are performing well and also getting better and better results,” he said.