Macau gambles on tech for its Covid-19 recovery

Macau skyline

Macau is betting that technology will help the gambling hub recover from its Covid-19 induced economic slump, the territory has been badly affected by travel bans because its economy is heavily reliant on gambling.

Next June, the city plans to host ‘Beyond’, a technology event loosely modelled on the massive CES trade show in Las Vegas, the event would also showcase Macau as an alternative to Hong Kong as a gateway to China, said its organiser. However, the date of the tech trade show could be pushed back to October if Covid-19 isn’t under control in time. “Macau has very good infrastructure, with the entertainment and hotels suitable for doing an event,” said Jason Ho, the son of Macau chief executive Ho Iat-Seng. Mr Ho has sought out a number of Chinese participants, including TikTok parent, Bytedance, drone giant DJI and Sensetime, as well firms in Japan and South Korea. “But we know our limitations and we need to partner up with different cities in the Greater Bay Area,” he told Reuters, who first reported the story.

The conference is a central government-backed initiative, aimed at closer integration between Guangdong province, Hong Kong and Macau, the former Portuguese colony isn’t considered a technology hub like it’s neighbours Shenzhen or Hong Kong. Unlike CES, which focuses on consumer electronics, the event will also cover areas like life sciences, financial technology and agricultural technology. Macau is Asia’s gambling hub, but it became a ghost town after coronavirus lockdowns in the first quarter of 2020 saw a severe downturn in visitors, while casino operators were permitted to reopen after a 15-day shutdown in February, Macau was virtually deserted as no tourists were allowed in. Visitors from mainland China make up more than 90% of Macau’s tourists, the city’s economy shrank 49% in the first quarter of this year.

In August, Macau’s authorities announced that they would slowly start reopening to gamblers, but gaming revenues were still just $6.6bn (£4.9bn) in November, which is 80.5% lower than the same month in 2019. Before Covid-19, more than 80% of tax revenues came from the gaming industry, which directly or indirectly employed about three-quarters of the territory’s population of 600,000. The hosting of a large-scale technology event is another example of how businesses and even economies are pivoting during the pandemic to stay profitable.

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