COVID-19 epidemic affects tourism a lot: MGTO chief

2020-02-26 03:45     Comment:0

Addressing yesterday’s daily press conference about Macau’s novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation, Macau Government Tourism Office (MGTO) Director Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes admitted that the COVID-19 epidemic has been affecting Macau’s tourism a lot.

The tourism chief also said that she “has never seen such bad performance figures” since she started to work for the tourism office.

According to the Official Gazette (BO), Senna Fernandes started to work for the government’s tourism office in 1992 before being appointed as its director in 2012.

Senna Fernandes made the remarks yesterday evening at the Health Bureau (SSM) adjacent to the public Conde de São Januário Hospital Centre, when replying to a question by a reporter who asked to what degree the novel coronavirus epidemic has adversely affected Macau’s tourism industry.

The tourism chief said that the impact of the epidemic on Macau’s tourism industry was “of course very large” for both inbound tourism and outbound tourism. For inbound tourism, she pointed out that no tour groups are visiting the city. For outbound tourism, she said that only a few local tour groups are slated to travel to Europe in the near future, while virtually no tour groups will travel to destinations in Asia, except just one group which is slated to travel to Japan next month.

According to Senna Fernandes, the average room occupancy rate of Macau’s hotels and guesthouses stood at 11.8 percent between February 15 and 21. The average occupancy rate of two-star hotels and guesthouses combined was 57 percent during the one-week period, while five-star hotels’ average occupancy rate was only in the one-digit range, she said.

According to official statistics, the average room occupancy rate of Macau’s 123 hotels and guesthouses stood at 90.8 percent last year.

Hotel occupancy rate lower than during 2003 SARS

Senna Fernandes said that last week’s 11.8-percent average occupancy rate was much lower than during the SARS epidemic in 2003. “We did not see such a low figure even during the SARS epidemic in 2003,” she said.

The tourism chief also said that the average room rate of Macau’s hotels and guestrooms was 690 patacas last week, adding that she “had never heard this figure in over 10 years”.

Senna Fernandes said that for the time being the government could not estimate by how much the number of visitor arrivals would drop this year as it was still not known when the epidemic on the mainland and elsewhere will ease.

Senna Fernandes said that her office was drafting plans to boost the recovery of the local tourism sector once the epidemic has started to wane in the future, adding that the future recovery measures would be rolled out in phases.

Macau Government Tourism Office (MGTO) Director Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes (right) speaks during yesterday’s press conference at the Health Bureau (SSM) about the city’s novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation, as SSM Director Lei Chin Ion (centre) and Lo Iek Long, one of the three clinical directors of the public Conde de São Januário Hospital Centre, look on. Photo: Tony Wong

Uncertainty over fireworks contest

Meanwhile, Senna Fernandes also said that the government has decided to postpone the annual Macau International Travel (Industry) Expo, which was initially scheduled to be held in April, until September. She said that this year’s expo will also feature a “gastronomy forum”.

Senna Fernandes also said that there was even uncertainty as to whether the annual firework display contest could be held in September as scheduled. She noted that teams from the mainland as well as a number of foreign countries such as Italy, Japan and South Korea are invited to compete in the annual contest every year.

She said that teams from countries and regions hit by the COVID-19 epidemic would need to take a long time to prepare for the annual contest, adding that they were initially slated to start their preparatory work now despite the event not being held until September, including ordering fireworks from factories. She said that firework factories on the mainland have only resumed production recently. She said that the government would hire a consultancy to assess whether the firework display contest could be held in September as scheduled.

Warning over religious activities & dining together

During yesterday’s press conference, Health Bureau (SSM) Director Lei Chin Ion used Hong Kong and South Korea as examples and said that religious activities and dining with others are activities that entail a “very” high risk of infection. He strongly urged residents to refrain from participating in such activities for the time being despite no new COVID-19 cases having been confirmed in Macau for 21 consecutive days. “These activities increase the risk of infection a great deal, which would also cause a community outbreak,” he said, adding that “the situation in South Korea is very serious”.

Last Wuhan patient discharged

Meanwhile, Lo Iek Long, the clinical director of the public hospital, announced the discharge of the seventh COVID-19 patient – who also happened to be the seventh confirmed case in Macau – yesterday, a 67-year-old woman from Wuhan. The patient, who returned to the mainland shortly after her discharge, has applied to be exempted from paying her hospital bill of 47,000 patacas due to her financial condition. Only one of the seven patients discharged so far has paid her bill.

Macau’s last two COVID-19 cases, the 9th and 10th cases, were confirmed on February 4. The 10 cases comprise seven tourists from Wuhan and three locals. Including yesterday’s discharged patient, all seven patients from Wuhan have meanwhile been cured and returned to the mainland. The three local patients are still under treatment in the public hospital’s isolation ward.

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