Macao has “many strengths and unique attributes”, including its beautifully preserved heritage, delegates were told at a travel symposium that was held in Singapore today.
The three-day showcase features stalls and displays promoting Macao’s gastronomy, art and culture, as well as expert panels on the territory’s position as both a high-end destination and a city with much to offer planners of meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE).
‘Culture as a strategy’
Speaking during the first session, entitled “Luxury Hospitality: The new playbook for building guest experiences”, Alan Watts, Hilton’s Asia-Pacific president, said the challenge for luxury brands is that they are “global by nature”.
He said that “In an environment where every major city in the world has a Marriott, Four Seasons [or an international luxury hotel], the destination itself becomes a major draw for the customer”. In that respect, Macao’s “Portuguese heritage and UNESCO sites” were “incredibly important” for travellers seeking bespoke experiences.
Michael Malik, Marriott International’s COO for Greater China, agreed on the importance of “culture as a strategy” and added that the proliferation of social media had increased the speed with which destination and brand experiences had to be provided. “Our customers are very impatient”, he said. “As hoteliers, we have had to become very agile, nimble and quick”.
Rainer Stampfer, head of global operations for Four Seasons pointed out that technology would also “enable us a lot more to deliver more personalisation”. He said that as the industry moves “from products to experiences” the “era of imagination brings a lot of opportunities”.
The impact of technology
Earlier in the day, Christian Westbeld, the general manager of Singapore’s Raffles Hotel, suggested that MICE was “working right now in terms of diversification” for Macao, adding that the territory “has the inventory, the structure and the ease of getting around” required of cities in the top segment of the MICE market.
His remarks paved the way for other panels pondering trends in MICE and their impact on Macao.
Entitled “How to navigate the journey ahead”, the first such panel looked at the role of technology. Glenn Gore, the CEO of data sharing and ownership company Affinidi Group, addressed a hot-button topic in every industry, including hospitality: artificial intelligence (AI).
“AI is like a three-year-old child with sharp scissors running around”, he told the audience. “AI doesn’t understand what it’s telling you and sometimes it’s just taking bad advice off the internet. AI does not replace humans. AI is incredibly smart, but it doesn’t understand”.
Ian Roberts, the vice president of buyer-seller platform Informa Markets Asia, also noted AI’s limitations. “We don’t see AI changing the model of the basic trade show”, he said. “Networking has to be done in person”.
Jason Ho, the co-founder of the BEYOND International Technology Innovation Expo, said “People actually love meeting, interacting in person”. In an earlier conversation with Macao News, he gave that as one of the reasons why the third iteration of the BEYOND Expo, held recently in Macao, was not live streamed.
Rebecca Hallett, the vice president and director of experience for experiential marketing agency Jack Morton Worldwide, disagreed however. “One thing we did learn [during the pandemic], we can create experiences purely online. The whole hybrid event can definitely work, we don’t need to have everyone in one room. A lot of people don’t necessarily want to return to events in person”.
In the following session (“Meetings & Events in a post-pandemic world: Status quo or a new game?”), Sherrif Karamat, the president and CEO of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) reminded his audience of the basics of MICE marketing – and some important lessons for Macao.
Of the criteria valued in a recent survey, he said, “Number one was access to the destination. Number five was price. Number two was infrastructure – service and physical. Number three was destination attractiveness. Number four, by the way, and we often overlook this, was about human relationships and ‘Do you actually know your customers deeply?’ People were prepared to pay more when you have those things”.
One of the forum’s later sessions convened experts in a discussion on “What makes a world-class meetings and events locale?”
Vincent U, president of the Macao Trade and Investment Promotion Institute, spoke of Macao’s top notch facilities. “From the perspective of the event organiser”, he said, Macao can offer “forums, gala dinners, and exhibitions under the same roof, in addition to a wide range of activities and unique experiences, and visa-free access to cities” in the Pearl River Delta.
Macao’s connectivity with China was one of its major strengths, he added, with the city acting as a bridge between the world – especially Portuguese-speaking countries – and the Greater Bay Area (GBA). “I promote Macao with our pamphlets”, he explained, “but also investment guides from other GBA cities like Zhuhai”.
That kind of unique positioning is vital in MICE marketing. Dr. Eunice Yoo, an associate professor who teaches event management at the Singapore Institute of Technology, said “Macao needs to be able to tell its own story and not compare itself to other destinations. Many people compare Macao to Las Vegas. You don’t need to be Las Vegas in Asia but you should find your authentic story”.
The importance of knowing one’s audience was meanwhile stressed by Florence Chua, PCMA’s regional managing director. She said it was all well and good knowing to use TikTok to target younger audiences and Facebook for older ones, “But if you don’t have something that speaks to their heart” then “you won’t get their attention”.
Noor Ahmed, the former regional chief of the International Congress and Convention Association agreed that “Marketing a destination is more complex these days because we cannot own the conversation. We have to listen to what the client is saying and what key issues they are talking about”.
Ultimately, the success of a MICE destination derives from its ability to impact the bottom line.
“For MICE, the core [value] is being a facilitator”, U said, “facilitating matchmaking between the supply and demand side and realising new business and transactions. The vital part is the matchmaking”.
The Macao Showcase is being held at the Expo and Convention Centre of Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, and concludes tomorrow.
—With reporting by Mariana César de Sá and Sara Santos Silva/Singapore