Editorial | October Fest

Paulo Coutinho

Everyone is looking and forecasting visitor turnout for Golden Week waiting and hoping for the return of mass tourism. But they will all fail. No matter whether visitation goes beyond or below expectations, we are probably looking in the wrong direction, and hoping for the same old things to happen in Macau – in a radically different world that is emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Just this week, we learned that the worldwide death toll from the coronavirus has eclipsed 1 million, nine months into a crisis that has devastated the global economy, tested world leaders’ resolve, pitted science against politics and forced multitudes to change the way they live, learn and work.
Here in our city, we also had to adapt, live, learn and work in a new way and in a new environment.
Although shielded from the horror of the loss of human lives, and with minimal cases of infection, Macau was the first economy globally to enter into recession due to the volatile nature of its core industry and the over-reliance on tourism and gaming. Soon after the lockdown, and in the ensuing stress of total isolation from the world, the public debate of health vs economy took off.
However, “to pitch the economic costs and potential health benefits associated with increasingly restrictive actions of government against each other as representing two competing priorities is to simplify a complex problem. The reality is that the two are inextricably linked; without a healthy workforce there can be no economic productivity. In this regard, the sooner that the Covid-19 health crisis is brought under control, the sooner that the economic recovery can begin,” Professor of Health Economics, Julie Ratcliffe pointed out early in the pandemic.
The Golden Week is a good way to start, in that we will be able to see how robust the current health system is under a predictable influx of tourists from the mainland in times of pandemic.
If we pass this test, during and after the first week of October, with no outbreak of imported or local contagion, the community, public and private businesses, particularly in the tourism sector will heave a sigh of relief. Not only in Macau, but in every corner of the world people are desperately looking at us for a sign of hope.
Whatever the post-holiday scenario presents, the visitation numbers will not go back to the absurdity of last year’s 38 million in a model of mass-mass monolithic market, either in terms of inbound tourists or in terms of visitor’s purse.
Macau could live better with much less tourism if we take this opportunity to think out of the box to come up with a vision that would be sustainable and much less volatile.
In the post-Covid era, the way we live, learn and work will definitely be different and when else would Macau get such an opportunity to re-envision itself without backlash?
In the process of recovery, the government may have to come up with a new package of economic relief, but in a deliberate and positive direction. Instead of a policy based on one-size-fits-all, why not prop up the right companies, and then support the individuals that have lost from the restructuring to shift to a new economic model?
A good start is right around the corner. The new gaming concessions tender should be devised in a manner that presupposes a change of paradigm. It is an opportunity to rid Macau of the excessive crowding, inequities, and other demons.

Categories Editorial Opinion