Alibaba is going to turn the historic city of Macau, and world’s largest gambling center, into a smart city of the future via the services of Alibaba Cloud, it has announced today. Healthcare, transport, city governance, tourism, and talent development will be the focuses of the project that will begin this year, according to a Memorandum of Understanding with the government of Macau exchanged in Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR).

The partnership will last four years with phase one running 2017-19 and will develop cloud computing technologies in Macau as a platform for the project, in a similar way to the scheme Alibaba launched in its mainland hometown in October 2016—Hangzhou City Brain. Alibaba would not disclose to us the size of the investment

Later stages are expected to cover environmental protection, economic forecasting and customs clearance, a somewhat meddlesome issue for the Pearl Delta Region straddling the three customs zones of Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China.

Tourism could, in fact, be the key area here. Macau is the largest gambling center in the world in terms of revenues, to the extent that gamblers bring in two-thirds of its economy. It is the only Chinese territory where gambling is allowed. Its casino industry saw a prolonged slump 2014-16 when crackdowns on corruption in mainland China meant fewer high rollers crossed over to gamble. Macau then attempted to diversify its tourism industry.

The Venetian in Macau—the world's largest casino

The Venetian in Macau—the world’s largest casino (Image credit: 123RF)

According to Alibaba, its smart city project will aid the development of tourism by targeted marketing. Future tourists can expect to enjoy “insight-driven guided tours,” convenient mobile payments (i.e. via Alipay) and “customized online promotions at the airport, commercial districts, tourist spots, convenience stores and restaurants.” The customized element could be based on the reams of user data from mainland tourists, who make up almost two-thirds of all tourists entering the city.

Alibaba told TechNode that “all data will be kept inside Macau as Alibaba is collaborating with Macau Government to build a dedicated smart technology platform for this Smart Macau project and Alibaba has the world-class technology capabilities to ensure the data security.”

City governance will be enhanced via a centralized cloud-based platform to connect different government departments. Macau SAR is governed independently from the People’s Republic under the “One Country, Two Systems” setup, which also covers neighboring Hong Kong.

The announcement includes the launch of the Alibaba Cloud IT Certificate program and B2B e-commerce training program with higher education institutions. The world’s largest e-commerce company will help “identify and nurture promising startups and talented entrepreneurs in Macau.”

Alibaba’s release quoted O Lam, Chief of Office of Macau SAR’s Chief Executive, as saying:

“After setting the goal to turn Macau into a smart city, Macau Government has studied the experience of other cities in developing their own versions of smart cities. After thorough study and research, we have decided to collaborate with Alibaba Group to foster the development of cloud computing and big data technologies.”