It’s in these recent, challenging coronavirus times that I am reminded of the well known catchphrase, Keep Calm and Carry On.
Originally appearing on a World War II-era British public safety poster, it does seem to exude the ‘stiff upper lip’ that the Brits are famed for; no sign of weakness allowed with a trembling of the upper lip! Commissioned in 1939 by the Ministry of Information in England, the poster was intended to strengthen the morale in the event of a large scale attack or occupation, which many considered inevitable at the time.
And so too with our latest flu-like virus scare. Both large scale attack and occupation are relevant descriptions, as is the inevitability of it all. With over two million people infected worldwide, many of whom live on our door step in Mainland China, how has Macau fared?
By all accounts our new governing team has reacted admirably, demonstrating their own stiff upper lip, remaining resolute and unemotional in facing this adversity. Prompt announcements of financial packages to help those families and businesses in need. Efficiency in mask distribution, advice to the public, notices, broadcasts. Decisive in the oh, so painful move to close the casinos – unprecedented in this the world’s gaming capital.
This is exactly what we look to in our leaders.
Sure, Macau is extremely fortunate in being very rich. And very small. So financial support to its citizens is far easier and quicker to arrange than say in Italy or Japan or Nigeria, which at time of writing is the first nation on the African continent to be hit.
Touch wood, Macau has also been lucky not to have suffered higher cases of the virus. But still, the ramifications to the business community will be felt for many months, if not years, to come because we are so heavily reliant on our visitors. And visitors that currently, sensibly, are not allowed to visit!
They are the very lifeblood to our industries, be it gaming and hotels, retail and F&B, travel, entertainment (how can the House of Dancing Water continue without an audience, which is made up virtually entirely by tourists?!), and all the other companies that exist in order to support these.
Closer to home for me and my team is Macau real estate. Certainly the leasing side of business is down but in sales we’re noticing somewhat of an uplift.
For leasing, Landlords are holding their rents for now, preferring to leave their units empty rather than agreeing to cuts. Locals and expats alike fear job insecurity so are hunkering down and not looking to move home at this time. Some hope for rent reductions but unless they can justify hardship and inability to pay rent these requests on the whole are being dismissed by landlords.
We anticipate a few more companies looking to downsize or pull out altogether; we’re currently handling both. There will be the inevitable impact on office rents, with smaller premises becoming more desirable and on a square foot basis perhaps more expensive and with larger units getting cheaper.
On the sales side my company has been inundated with calls and WhatsApps from locals and Hong Kong people, bored at home, surfing the Net, peppering us with questions on the state of the market, and seeking out bargains. In selling, landlords are being more pragmatic – if they want to sell and move on with life they are considerably more flexible in their sales terms. So things are moving, particularly in HKD10M and under sales bracket. And bargains are to be had.
Then there’s the Hengqin part to the story. All sorts of benefits to Macau locals have recently been offered there in order to lure buyers. This surely is part of the process of assimilating Macau with Hengqin – and probably its consolation to developers who have built and now need to fill.
But back to a more general overview of Macau since coronovirus. Do the clouds have any silver lining? Apart from a well respected new Chief Executive and team who have quickly shown their metal, for me what sticks out most has been seeing how brilliantly the Macau people have managed during this crisis. There’s been a real sense of ‘we’re in this together’. Murmurs of discontent and grumbling about being cooped up at home with no access to parks, no exercise, little entertainment are barely audible. The added stress for parents having to cope with home schooling their children has been dealt with stoically. It’s helped having had such lovely weather – the sunshine cheers up all our spirits. And kudos to the supermarkets that have done a superb job in keeping up with quickly emptying shelves because shopping has been the only occupation away from home that most of us have had.
We’ve all just stayed calm and carried on!