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    Forum Discusses Integration of Offline and Online Strategies in Shopping Tourism

    Integration of offline and online business strategies by traditional bricks-and-mortar tourism retailers – a trend accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic – was the main topic in a panel discussion organized by the Alliance for Developing Macao into the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area Tourism Education and Training Base.

    Established in 2018, the Alliance is a Macao-based coalition, bringing together 3 local government bodies and 10 local higher education institutions. Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM) acts as the coordinating unit. The goal of the Alliance is to support Macao’s development as a base for tourism education and training for the Greater Bay Area, as envisioned by the Central Government.

    The event was featured in the Macao International Travel (Industry) Expo, also known as MITE, as part of its recent eighth edition.

    The panel discussion was themed “New Retail, New Service Concept, New Opportunities”, and had more than 100 participants. It was the latest installment in the Alliance’s GBA Tourism Forum series and brought together representatives from businesses with a presence in the Greater Bay Area.

    MITE was held from 6 to 8 November at the Venetian Macao integrated resort. The event was organized by the Macao Government Tourism Office and coordinated by the Macau Travel Agency Association. It was supported by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the People’s Republic of China.

    Invited speakers for the panel discussion included senior executives from international luxury travel retailer DFS Group, and from Macao-based resort operator Sands China Ltd. Taking part in the discussion via videoconference were a scholar from Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and representatives from jewellery chain Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group, and from Tencent Smart Retail – the latter a unit of Chinese Internet giant Tencent.

    Speaker Mr. Johan Pretorius, Managing Director at DFS Cotai Lda, said the COVID-19 pandemic had greatly impacted shopping tourism in Macao, with travel restrictions preventing tourists from visiting the city for part of 2020. He explained that to address the situation, tourism retailers had begun looking at ways to tap into the local consumer base, while devising new strategies to boost such retailers’ online presence.

    The application mechanism for tourist permits to Macao was only fully resumed by authorities in Mainland China in late September. Tourists from either Hong Kong or the Taiwan region are still subject to automatic quarantine upon arrival to Macao. The city is not yet allowing foreigners in for tourism purposes.

    Mr. Pretorius admitted that online retailing was not a natural fit for high-end products. Luxury retailing was focused on the quality of service and exclusivity of items offered, he added. “But now we need to be stronger [in terms of online presence] and meanwhile keep our offline customers,” he said, in reference to the business environment changes brought by the pandemic.

    Ms. Rita Simonetta, Vice President of Retail Marketing at Sands China, also took part in the panel discussion as a guest speaker. She pointed out the increased integration between online and offline channels in shopping tourism. One example was that tourists were increasingly going online prior to arriving to a destination, for information on where to shop once there.

    The impact of search engines among Chinese consumers “is really strong,” Ms. Simonetta said. “That’s something we need to work better: how to integrate online and offline services to maximize their effect, and make sure that the customers get what they want.”

    Speaker Mr. Zhe Xu, Industry Manager of South China at Tencent Smart Retail, said the pandemic had led to a surge in online sales in the Mainland earlier this year, as people had to stay at home as a preventive measure to curb the spread of COVID-19. Official data showed that, while many retail outlets had to close down temporarily, people actually did not stop shopping during that period: they instead did it online, an easier and safer way in terms of pandemic prevention.

    The Alliance has previously cooperated with MITE. In 2019, the Alliance hosted two panel sessions at the expo. They examined the likely impact of the Greater Bay Area initiative on tourism and hospitality. The first panel featured C-level executives from the tourism and hospitality sector based respectively in Macao, Hong Kong and neighboring Guangdong Province. The second panel consisted of young executives planning to advance their careers in the Greater Bay Area.