Our Desk | The veil of statistics

Honey Tsang

It appears that things in Macau have gone down the right path — locals are splurging through their e-vouchers and vacationing in mainland cities. Most importantly, there is no specter of any of it being affected by Covid-19.
Official data showed that tourism businesses were heading in the right direction as well.
Visitor arrivals to Macau hit an 11-month high on December 31, totaling 30,747 visitors. The occupancy rate sharply improved too. It stood at 67.2% from December 31, 2020 to January 3, 2021, up 15.1% from December.
However, these dazzling statistics can never tell us the gospel truth.
There are still many in this city afflicted by deep adversity, desperation and destitution.
Earlier, the government made an appeal, asking locals to scrap their travel plans and stay in town during the Spring Festival. This prefaces a lot more suffering for local tourism practitioners.
I interviewed Wu Wai Fong, the chairman of the Macau Tourist Guide Association, to try and make out what’s really going on in the tourism industry.
I knew life had always been harsh for tourism practitioners during the pandemic, but I didn’t know how nightmarish and poignant the experience had been until Wu revealed to me the naked truth.
She told me over 50% of local tour guides from the association had to change their careers begrudgingly, otherwise they would have wound up “dead broke.”
Their change was not a proud change either, I would say. Some dismissed tourist guides had no choice but to enter whatever industry brought them on board out of desperation.
Some tourist guides have managed to set aside their pride to work as taxi drivers, renovation workers, or mascots disguised as the god of wealth at hotels.
I believe all occupations, be they blue or white collar jobs, are worthy of respect from every one of us, as they all serve roles in the community.
But jumping from a realm where you took joy in, specializing in, to another career just to scrap by in life will strip away all the “amour propre”.
Wu told me that there are actually a lot of them lining up for one just mascot position.
It was even more heartbreaking to hear that beleaguered tourism practitioners in Macau had failed to compete for an entry-level position in a well-known fast-food chain, as most of them are middle aged.
A job is not just a source of income. It is also an identity, a stabilizer of self-worth and the promise of plans for the future. But in the age of the Covid-19, a state of joblessness destroys all of these.
Often, we easily come to conclusions based on what we see and hear. But not all financial sufferings are laid bare — most of them are tucked away and hidden, especially during the pandemic.
In 2020, nine travel agencies collapsed, while 17 others were suspended and closed their businesses. They accounted for almost 12% of the city’s 220 registered travel agencies last year, according to MGTO.
The travel warning by the government is going to deal local tour guides a severe blow, or even the final straw for some of them.
Experts say that a fresh wave of shutdowns and layoffs are on the horizon this year.
Wu hopes the government can create more job opportunities for the affected tourist practitioners. A third round of the stimulus package can be a lifeline, but she knows that this is just a stopgap solution.
The number of Macau’s licensed tourist guides reduced by two to 1,970. One passed away as the individual was unable to afford treatment for his illness, while the other died of depression exacerbated by unemployment.
Wu cried whilst speaking about this.
Compared to the tourist arrival figures, this is a sordid number.

Categories Opinion