Macau’s MICE industry foresees a strong rebound in trade fairs, exhibitions, and conferences this year, but rising costs are worrying organizers.

Speaking to AGB, Alan Ho Hoi Ming, head of the Macao Association of Convention, Exhibition & Tourism Sectors, forecasts that the number of events scheduled for the current year will reach 50 to 65 percent of 2019 levels, meaning 700 to 1,000 events will be held in 2023.

According to the Statistics and Census Service, there were 1,536 events in 2019, while the number of attendees was 2 million. During the three years of COVID-19, the number of MICE activities fell significantly to about 400 annually, while the number of visitors kept at 1.4 million levels in both 2021 and 2022.

Alan Ho points out that even though the number of visitors didn’t fall as significantly compared to the number of events, “professional visitors fell to zero because of the pandemic curbs”.

The industry expert also warns that the rising cost of hotel rooms is worrisome for those in the industry.

“The price of hotel rooms in Cotai has already exceeded the pre-COVID levels”, which means that the cost of accommodation may reach a peak this year, as the quick rebound has highlighted a labor shortage lately.

Macau’s tourism bureau said last month that up to 3,000 hotel rooms were out of use due to the current labor shortage, with the local hotels and the tourism industry in general struggling to hire manpower to fulfill the increase in demand.

Ho said that the average cost of the Cotai Strip hotel rooms vary from MOP1,500 ($187) to 1,800 ($225) per night on weekdays, but that now the price is over MOP2,000 ($250), which represents at least a 10 percent increase.

“The MICE industry had a meeting with the six gaming operators (who also operate the majority of the city’s room supply) to try and ask for a decrease in the cost,” notes Ho, pointing out that “we hope the labor shortage will ease as soon as possible”, to increase supply and subsequently drive down room rates.

Meanwhile, the Macao Trade and Investment Promotion Institute (IPIM) says that it is encouraging the MICE industry to provide incentive schemes for MICE visitors, containing “food, accommodation, transportation, sightseeing, shopping, and recreation” packages.

The local government is also pushing for more MICE tourists, as they historically spend more and stay longer in Macau.

As evidence of the synergy between large-scale events and higher visitors spend, Ho notes the upcoming K-pop concert by Blackpink that will be held on May 20th and 21st at Galaxy’s new 16,000-seat area.

“The dynamic in the box office shows that Macau has an advantage in attracting high-spending tourists”, points out Ho – noting that the Blackpink concert tickets go up to MOP3,699 ($470). The event is already reportedly sold out.

Galaxy Phase III – including the Galaxy International Convention Center (GICC) and Galaxy Arena is opening in the second quarter of 2023, adding 40,000 square meters of space for MICE events, coupled with the multi-purpose arena.

Ho says he believes that the new MICE venue will give more options to event organizers, as the larger space will benefit from a wider range of activities.

14,000 MICE attendees expected in March and April

But the year is already starting well for MICE, with IPIM stating that annual company and academic conferences being held in Macau during March and April are projected to receive over 14,000 attendees.

The group notes that one large company has already held its annual conference in Macau, which was attended by nearly 2,000 business visitors from mainland China.

In 2023, IPIM has pledged that it will make every effort to drive Macau’s MICE segment forward and encourage the city’s economic diversification away from gaming.

The institute notes that it will team up with the neighboring areas, relevant industries, and integrated tourism and leisure enterprises and combine the resources of all parties, as well as their customer base networks and attract and bid for international or regional MICE events to be held in Macau.