Interview | Alexis Tam envisages a new landmark in cultural tourism

Alexis Tam says the government has a bold vision for the future development of Macau’s tourism industry, and the Art Macao event, which will be inaugurated next year, plays a big role in it.

The Macau SAR government headquarters, a typical southern European style structure with a pink façade and a large garden, both reflects and preserves the city’s cultural history. The former residence of the Portuguese Governor of Macau, each year on its annual Open Day, throws open its doors to the public so that the people of Macau can both appreciate its beauty and contemplate the city’s past.

It is fitting that this is where we will meet Alexis Tam, Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture. As a senior member of the Macau government, Tam is known for his international-minded vision and an innovative approach to administration. In today’s interview, we are fortunate to be given a deeper look into an important concept for the government as 2018 draws to a close and 2019 beckons. It is that

building a unique image for Macau, embedded in cultural tourism, will have an immeasurable influence on the city’s development.

– As a small city focused on leisure and cultural tourism development, what unique advantages do you think Macau has?

Alexis Tam (AT) – We already have four “name cards”. First, Macau is the place where Chinese and Western cultures meet. The governance of Portugal has left its footprint in Macau’s over-400-year history. This type of cultural integration took place much earlier than that in Shanghai, dating back to the Ming dynasty. It is still quite visible in Macau and no other Chinese city bears its resemblance. In 2005, we successfully applied to UNESCO for recognition as a world heritage site. Second, last year we successfully promoted Macau to be designated by UNESCO as a “Creative City of Gastronomy”. We have a lot still to do around this theme. Third, the collection of “Chapas Sínicas” (Official Records of Macau During the Qing Dynasty (1693-1886), jointly nominated by the Archives of Macao under the Cultural Affairs Bureau and the National Archive of Torre do Tombo of Portugal, has been successfully inscribed on the internationally recognized Memory of the World Register. It shows that Macau was once a hub port of China’s foreign trade and exchanges and a convergence point of Eastern and Western culture due to the busy marine traffic passing through here. Fourth, Macau is a free port and an important node of the Maritime Silk Road. It is also a member of the “China Maritime Silk Road Tourism Promotion Alliance” and the “Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area Urban Tourism Federation”. It can build a bridge to develop cooperation in tourism between European counties and China and to promote more effective interaction.

– For the Creative City designation, do you have more plans?

AT – Yes, we do. Last year, Macau was designated as a new member of UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) in the field of Gastronomy. But Macau has a lot more potential. The government will strive to build a creative city with diverse development in other fields, including design, film, food, literature, music, media arts, handicraft, and folk arts. For example, Venice was originally a port of commerce in the middle ages. Later, due to the development of other European cities, it lost its shine. But about 100 years ago, Venice decided to build a commercial street to host international promotions. It invited other countries to build pavilions and take part in biannual exhibitions to promote their own artists, which was very successful. In so doing, Venice became world-renowned once again. This is the charm of a creative city.

At present, Macau is building a creative city with multiple layers of dynamic and static elements. Art Macao is an important part of it. We have encouraged all the Macau gaming concessionaires to hold contemporary art exhibitions at the same time, from May to October. Together, we will turn hotel lobbies and multi-function halls into showcases of world-class contemporary art. We will invite artists of different levels, including college students of fine arts, to come to exhibit, exchange, and improve our offerings.

We have set up a working group to achieve this, and the leaders of the six concessionaires are very supportive. I have also personally visited the consuls and government representatives of many countries in Hong Kong and Macau, inviting them to encourage their artists to visit Macau. I believe it will be a win-win situation with synergistic effects. The hotels will hold exhibitions of paintings, sculptures, or other types of art to showcase the works of the world’s top contemporary artists.

Outside the hotels, there is much to see, as Macau is a beautiful historical city. We continue to enrich it. For example, on the Avenida do Coronel Mesquita, the original 12-room house, which was used as a dormitory in old times, will become an art exhibition hall. It can hold exhibitions for 12 artists at the same time. Other cultural venues under construction include the Grand Prix Museum, the Xian Xinghai Memorial Hall, and the Charity Memorial Hall next to the Our Lady of Sorrows Church.

From May to October next year, along with the art exhibitions in the hotels and city districts all over Macau, the government will hold a variety of cultural activities, including the International Art Festival of Macau, the Macau International Music Festival, the Macau International Youth Dance Festival, Wushu Maters Challenge, etc. All these events together form Art Macao. It will last for six consecutive months. We can imagine how wonderful it will be. Macau will become a city with exhibition halls and festival activities everywhere. All the tourism and cultural hotspots, like the summer stars, will be able to shine with each other. Together with other events such as the Grand Prix, the International Marathon, the International Boxing Games, the International Film Festival, Macao International Fireworks Display Contest, and the International Light Festival, visitors will have a much more diverse and rich experience in Macau.

– Many of these activities have “International” in their title. Could you elaborate?

AT – Yes. You can see from next year that our art festival has added the word “International” in its title, and other activities will also emphasize being more international. This is how Macau is being positioned take advantage of its status as a node of the Maritime Silk Road. Internationalization means that when tourists arrive at their hotel, they can not only see a local pavilion or engage in local activities, but also many other things. As Macau is an international tourist destination and an international cultural exchange platform, it will attract much more international tourists.

– The government had been promoting tourism in old districts such as the Rua dos Ervanarios. Please elaborate.

AT – We have different markets of visitors to focus on. For example, tourists who favor art works can visit hotels, cultural centers, and art museums. Others who enjoy authentic folk art and traditional culture can walk around the communities in the old districts. The Rua dos Ervanarios is close to the Ruins of St Paul – one of the city’s most famous landmarks. This area was famous for shops selling antiques in colonial times. Now it is easily transformed into a cultural and creative area. More than 35 million tourists visit this area every year. The government will provide support in policy, finance, and publicity to help cultural and creative enterprises to operate here.

– How will Macau leverage its tourism and cultural advantages to integrate into the development opportunities of the Greater Bay Area?

AT – That is very important. We can further promote our tourism attractions, cultural resources, and other products to all the cities in the Greater Bay Area. Under the idea of “one trip, multiple stops, mutual benefit”, we can expand to the Greater Bay Area and attract more visitors from overseas. Excellent resources nearby, such as the old Diaolou [traditional houses] in Kaiping, and the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Hengqin, can be jointly promoted. In the context of the Greater Bay Area, we can also redevelop the old “cruise tour” into a high-end sea tour, featuring music bands, tasteful catering, and beautiful scenery. In the future, we expect to see many sea tour programs competing against each other in the Greater Bay Area.

– What impact do you think recent global trade and economic tensions could have on Macau’s development of cultural tourism?

AT – Despite the Sino-US trade dispute, I am optimistic about Macau’s future. Macau is a world center of tourism and leisure. That is why such a small city can attract so many tourists. With the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, international visitors can come directly to Macau through the Hong Kong airport. Following the development of the Greater Bay Area, I believe Macau will soon become a key part of one of the world’s most outstanding city clusters. I have full confidence in this. I believe we are doing what we should be doing right now: not only can we see the future, but also will witness the process of turning it into reality. Grace Geng, Macau Inc Special to MDT

Categories Interview Macau