In 2020, Macao experienced a severe economic contraction due to stringent travel restrictions to the SAR as COVID-19 raged across the world. Total visitor arrivals plummeted 85.0 percent to 5.9 million. Service exports fell 74.9 percent, and GDP contracted by 56.3 percent.
However, as the epidemic situation in Macao and the mainland continued to stabilize, particularly with the reinstatement of travel permit issuance to mainland residents in September last year, the SAR, which has reported no locally transmitted COVID-19 case for 375 continuous days as of Thursday, has gradually regained popularity as a safe and quality tourist destination.
A report released Wednesday by the University of Macao (UM) forecast the SAR's economy to grow between 21.4 percent and 33.5 percent in 2021, depending on the recovery speed of the number of visitor arrivals to the city. Exports of services are expected to grow between 53.4 percent and 82.1 percent and the unemployment rate is projected to decline.
"Looking forward to 2021, as long as Macao and the mainland continue to maintain a stable epidemic situation, Macao's economy is expected to usher in a V-shaped recovery compared with 2020," Feng said.
The UM report noted that in 2021, with the development of vaccines and the start of the vaccination process, Macao's travel restrictions are expected to be gradually relaxed and the number of tourists to Macao is expected to increase. However, the projected GDP in 2021 does not yet reach the level of 2019, and the income of many residents has fallen.
Due to uncertainties in the pandemic, it is still difficult to accurately predict the outlook of Macao's economy this year, Lao said, adding that it is anticipated the whole year's GDP would recover to at least 50 percent of that in 2019.
Feng said the epidemic has fully highlighted the urgency for Macao to develop a more diversified economy.
The SAR government's policy address for the fiscal year 2021 mentioned several measures to promote a moderately diversified economy, such as industry re-positioning, the bond market and wealth management, industrialization of traditional Chinese medicine, cross-border e-commerce, and industrialization of the cultural and sport sectors.
"Macao could leverage its unique relations with the mainland and its advantages as a free market economy to develop distinctive financial functions such as RMB bond market, RMB-denominated securities market, wealth management, and green finance," Feng said.
Macao could also actively seize opportunities in the integration of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, as well as China's cooperation with Portuguese-speaking countries and countries along the Belt and Road Initiative, Feng added.
"The integration of Macao into the development of the country is the only way to maintain its long-term prosperity and stability," Lao said.