MACAU (eTN) – Some 15 years ago, mentioning Macau to Hong Kong residents would have attracted despising comments about the by-then Portuguese enclave: “rather dirty, dull, and sleepy city” were the most common comments to be heard. Then Macau reverted to China in 1999, and within a decade, reinvented itself entirely to the point that Hong Kong might look dull today. Casino licences were open to competition with all big players such as Wynn and Sands moving in. The old town has been listed since 2006 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, prompting the Chinese government to restore many of the beautiful old Portuguese houses and churches. Macau looks indeed even more Portuguese than during Portugal’s administration!
Megaprojects have popped up all over the special administrative territory with an LRT in the planning, expansion of the airport, a new ferry terminal next to the Cotai strip – the equivalent of the Las Vegas strip – while the Border Gate, Macau’s point of entry from and to Mainland China, is due to more than double in size before China’s new year. The immigration point will then be able to accommodate 500,000 visitors per day compared to 200,000 today.
Macau’s tourism is indeed more than ever dependent on Greater China (China PRC, Hong Kong, and Taiwan). “From 21.75 million visitors, over 81 percent come from Greater China. But we are also very pleased with the number of travelers from other countries. Over the last five years, the number of tourists outside Greater China doubled, and we will continue our promotion overseas to balance our source markets,” explained Joao Manuel Costa Antunes, director of the Macau government tourist office. “The arrival of new players in the gaming and gambl[ing] industry raised the interest of Chinese travelers to visit Macau. But as we offer an increasingly diversified product, such as spectacular shows, premium shopping, and new attractions, such as a panda conservation park, we also see strong increases from overseas markets – especially the family segment – staying longer in our territory,” he analyzed.
UNESCO’s status to Macau’s old town also boosted interest for the former Portugal territory history. “Most of our visitors will at least make a circuit in the city center to visit the most significant monuments, such as Legal Senado square or the ruins of St. Paul Cathedral,” said Mr. Costa Antunes, “And we continue to preserve our heritage by offering new attractions, such as the recently-restored Mandarin House, an old mansion converted into a museum.”
Macau’s successful tourism diversification can be seen in the number of overnights. Despite the growth in total accommodation – up by 8.9 percent between August 2009 and August 2010 at 21,000 rooms – the occupancy breaches new records for the first half of 2010, reaching 83.7 percent (up by 12 points), while the average room rate continues to grow by 5.4 percent during the same period at US$133.10. “We identify many new segments to our future growth. An important one is the MICE sector. With the opening of the Venetian resort with its exhibition halls, we are now able to host very large events such as PATA Travel Mart, which would have been technically impossible a couple of years ago. We also identify new promising markets such as the Middle East, Russia, and India. We already welcome 100,000 Indians a year, a market which was non-existent for us just five years ago,” added Mr. Costa Antunes. Last year, Indonesia came also for the first time among Macau’s top ten visitor-generating markets, overpassing the USA with 191,000 arrivals.
However, the biggest project to date is the construction of a new bridge linking Hong Kong and Macau. The gigantic project will stretch over the sea on 29.6 km [18.4 miles] a dual three-lane carriageway. “Wuth the bridge linking first Chek Lap Kok Island, Macau will then be only 20 minutes away from Hong Kong. The bridge will be finished around 2016/17 and will be an essential step in Macau’s integration to Guangdong Province,” told Joao Manuel Costa Antunes, with the consequence of turning the former Portuguese enclave into a suburb of Hong Kong. Unless it is the other way around!