Macau solicits tourism tax opinion as visitation concerns mount

Macau’s tourism body is studying whether to impose a tourism tax amidst concern the territory may not be able to handle a sharp increase in visitors as connectivity with the mainland improves.

Part of the study will include a month-long survey, which began on May 20th and takes the form of an online questionnaire. The opinions will become a significant consideration in the study, the Macau Government Tourism Office said.

Besides collecting residents’ opinions through the questionnaire, the MGTO has also distributed questionnaires to members of the travel trade and is carrying out a face-to-face survey with visitors upon their departure at various ports in Macau, to collect opinions from a more diverse populace to serve as significant reference for the study.

Macau welcomed 35.8 visitors in 2018 and speaking at G2E Asia on Tuesday, SJM Holdings Chair Daisy Ho said she believed the territory is approaching peak capacity, which is estimated to be about 40 million.

The bridge linking Hong Kong Macau and Zhuhai is expected to greatly boost visitation in coming years, while a rail link extension from Zhuhai Station in Gongbei to Hengqin island is due to open later this year. That link will provide easy access to Macau, with faster and more efficient border crossing procedures.

Visitor arrivals jumped almost 24 percent in March, though same day visitors surged by 40 percent, with overnight guests gaining just over 9 percent, indicating the bridge is boosting visitation.

“We have to think of the customer experience,” Anthony Lawrance, managing director of Macau Inc. said on a panel at G2E Asia. “No high end customer checking into the Sheraton wants to be bowled over by a tour group.”

However, whether a tourism tax is the right way to tackle the issue was met with some scepticism.

“I don’t know that we need more barriers,” said Ruth Boston, Sands Resorts senior vice president – marketing and brand management. “We do need to get the right balance,” she said, adding it’s too early to say where the tourism tax idea will go.

Daisy Ho suggests Macau needs to focus on moving up market to meet the challenge, though others say more hotel rooms are the answer and the government should encourage faster development of resorts on neighbouring Hengqin.