‘The Vegas of East’ has many facets that are yet to find traction in the India outbound. The aim of the tourism board will be to showcase these aspects which will augment footfalls and add more luster to its destination appeal, feels Arzan Khambatta, Head, Macau Tourism Government Office, India. Excerpts of the interview:
Tell us a little bit about Macau’s positioning as a destination. Many call it the ‘Vegas of the East’
It has got different connotations. Macau has evolved a lot over the years as well. So the way we position it, we talk about it being the nerve centre of tourism and leisure. I would say that Macau is a city of duality. On one hand, it has a got a very unique blend of Chinese and Portuguese culture, whereas on the other hand, it has a number of very high-end hotels and luxury properties. Therefore, someone can feel various facets at a single destination. Entertainment is another major aspect of our offerings; there are world-class shows going on in Macau all the time.
Most of the hotels and resorts are theme-based which have become attractions in themselves. When Indians go to these properties, they like to witness shows and cultural festivals that are happing all the time. It would not be wrong to say that there is always something going on in Macau.
It has a fascinating night-life; establishments are open till wee hours of the morning. It is a very safe city which is why we see a lot of women travelers heading to Macau for their bachelorettes and parties.
So is the women traveler segment an important segment? How big is it for you?
It is, indeed, a growing segment which we intend to tap further. Safety is a big concern for women travelers, and the number of women travelling out of India for bachelorette parties is steadily picking up. Our mandate is to promote Macau as a fantastic party destination and an extremely safe one, in equal measure – which is a rare combination.
How big is shopping as an activity?
Shopping is quite big, but Macau is famous for its high-end luxury shopping than street-shopping. There is a bit of street shopping in Macau. The shopping part is still little known in India, but those who do travel shop a lot. In fact, few of the properties also give shopping credits to their guests. So, the shopping part of it is big, but it is more in the luxury high-end segment.
What are the latest trends in terms of tourism in Macau? What are you key products that you are basing country’s tourism on?
As you said, the first thing that came to your mind when you heard Macau was the term ‘Vegas of the East’, but it is changing slowly, and that is what we are trying to promote. It has got so many family-based activities, and is so rich in culture, which is exactly our thrust as a tourism board. Indians do go to Macau for the grandeur, entertainment and casinos part of it, but the culture and food is so unique that Macanese cuisine is nowhere else to be found. It is a blend of the Portuguese and Chinese with flavors from all over – Africa, India and elsewhere. There are family entertainment activities like the Science Centre, the house of dancing water show, the Panda pavilion, the Batman ride and number of museums that have come up off late. There are churches and temples.
Are churches and temples attractions in themselves or an add-on to the larger tourism product?
Globally, it is a big attraction. It is unheard of having Gothic Portuguese style churches in a Chinese city. It is a rare combination. If you go to Macau, you will find that there are parts of city which remotely resemble being a part of a contemporary Chinese city; it would look very old, Gothic style Portuguese architecture with cobbled-stone streets named in Portuguese. The culture is very neatly blended, and the government is preserving that culture – which is good for the future of tourism.
So, where are you getting your footfalls from? Give us a sense of tourism from India into Macau. What have been the numbers off late?
Last year, we hosted some 1, 67,000 tourists from India. It is growing steadily. In terms of source market, Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru remain major markets for us, but we have seen an increasing trend coming from smaller cities like Ahmedabad, Kolkata and Pune. Even this year, we are going to focus on tier-2 and smaller cities like Jaipur which are very strong feeder markets to traffic from Delhi and Mumbai, and that is where we see the growth coming from. Gujarat, Ahmedabad area in particular, is a major contributor to footfalls into Macau.
Tell us a little bit about connectivity from Hong Kong.
There are no direct flights from Hong Kong, but there is chopper connectivity. It is usually connected to Macau by ferry, and, at the most, takes an hour. You can actually take a ferry directly from the airport without actually crossing the Hong Kong immigration. The connectivity is really seamless; your luggage can directly be checked-in and collected in Macau, and that is the itinerary which a lot of people are following these days. People go straight into Macau from the airport and go to Hong Kong while coming back.
Give us a sense of MICE segment. How is it shaping up? How are you bolstering the segment?
It is a great incentive destination. A lot of corporate groups take their incentive groups to Macau. We have an incentive scheme which depends on the number of people going, and we give back a few complimentary elements to help the corporate segment. They include a half-day city tour, a cultural performance, and souvenirs.
Is the strategy working for you? Are you open to a tweak?
This is the strategy that we have. It is a centralized offering, but depending upon the size and the interest of the group, we do tweak it. I would say that a half-day city tour is a very attractive proposition as every group has to do a city tour – which is completely coming free of cost from the Macau government. Most of these incentives also include a gala dinner. So, the elements that are provided are actual components which people spend for.