Macau has more to offer than a house of cards

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 March, 2006, 12:00am

What a shame that Macau's Fisherman's Wharf, the spectacular recreation of the architecture of mercantile cities throughout history, is being allowed to languish unpromoted.

As a result, instead of being packed with visitors, this classy attraction, the brainchild of developer David Chow Kam-fai, draws only a handful of Macau's 55,000 daily tourists.

Apart from a few restaurants, such as Richard Feldman's popular Sichuan and Al's Diner, and Joao Mesquita Ferreira's Camoes serving authentic Portuguese food, activity is minimal.

The whole project, 51 per cent owned by Stanley Ho Hung-sun and 49 per cent by Mr Chow, is a tribute to the latter's eye for detail, with the historic buildings faithfully reproduced.

The point of the project's other features which line the shore between the ferry pier and the Sands casino, such as the faux coliseum, a 'live' volcano and an African village are harder to fathom.

After a few exciting eruptions, the volcano fell silent and has remained so after a woman was hurt in an accident involving the roller-coaster inside. But its future appears shrouded in secrecy. Ask any Macau tourism insider and it becomes clear this episode is a taboo subject.

The volcano apart, Fisherman's Wharf offers imaginative street theatre and an impressive historical experience. But it has so far suffered a marketing bypass. Instead of showcasing this, the territory's newest and most photogenic attraction, Macau-bound Hong Kong ferry passengers are treated to videos of Pansy Ho Chiu-king publicising the Macau Tower.

So far, there has been no visible effort to promote the place, although it has effectively been open since January.

This situation is compounded by a lack of access and signage. Newly erected iron railings bar pedestrians from strolling between it and the adjacent Sands. Apparently, these were installed after someone got hit crossing the busy road, but surely a pedestrian crossing would have sufficed.

Now anyone walking from Sands to Fisherman's Wharf must take a 15-minute detour. The promenade along the wharf is closed off, too. Taking a taxi is no easier, with locals saying cab drivers determinedly drop off Fisherman's Wharf passengers at Sands, knowing there is no simple way through. It's time for a co-ordinated marketing push to show Macau has more for tourists than casinos.

India gathers pace

By the end of this decade, India's population will hit 1.16 billion, with per capita gross domestic product reaching US$1,000, although so far, only cities such as Chandigarh, Goa and New Delhi are above the US$1,000 bracket.

Between 1981 and 1991, outbound travel grew at 4.5 per cent a year, doubling to 9 per cent each year between 1991 and 2001. For the three years to 2004, it reached an average of 10.5 per cent, according to the latest report on India by the Pacific Asia Travel Association. In 2004, arrivals from India reached almost 2.5 million across Asia Pacific.

While Southeast Asia now attracts more than one million Indian arrivals annually, the Pacific has yet to record 100,000 in a single year. Indians don't visit their South Asian neighbours much, with only 12 per cent of all Indian arrivals to Asia-Pacific destinations.

Southeast Asia leads the way, followed by Northeast Asia. The top destinations in Asia Pacific in 2004 were, in order, Singapore, Thailand, China, the US and Hong Kong.

China has risen three places from sixth in 2000 to third in 2004, with annual growth of 26.5 per cent between 2000 and 2004. Hong Kong kept its fifth position.

Mumbai and New Delhi captured 72.8 per cent of all embarkations/disembarkations within India's top five international airports in 2003-04, although secondary airports jumped from 1.9 million in 2002-03 to 6.8 million in 2003-04.

Partly fuelled by aviation sector liberalisation, scheduled weekly flights to India rose 12.9 per cent from the first quarter last year to the first quarter this year to 1,272 per week now, or 281,324 seats per week.

With increasing capacity, the forecasts of tourism demand from India remain bullish, suggesting continuing annual growth in outbound flows to 23 Asia-Pacific destinations from 1.5 per cent this year to 18 per cent in 2008, depending on destination.