Las Vegas Sands Corp

Has Macau taken too long gearing up for tourist throng?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 August, 2007, 12:00am

The opening today of the giant Venetian Macao resort will take Macau's casino boom to another level. The new flood of visitors it triggers will reinforce the case for a major upgrade of the city's public transport.

With more tourists arriving, traffic is creating gridlock in Macau. Its entry ports are at near-capacity, handling 22 million visitors last year.

The Venetian Macao will operate a fleet of 10 high-speed ferries between Hong Kong and Macau, but that depends upon the completion of a new ferry terminal on Taipa.

The huge resort, built by Las Vegas Sands, has 850 gaming tables, more than any other casino anywhere. It has also added 4,100 slot machines to Macau's casino market.

Sitting on the reclaimed Cotai Strip, the complex features a hotel tower with 3,000 suites and a convention centre with 111,000 square metres of floor space.

It also includes a 15,000-seat stadium and a baroque-themed shopping plaza with 350 stores.

Long queues of mainland tourists were expected to begin forming overnight ahead of its opening. At the elaborate opening of the Sands Macao, also owned by Las Vegas Sands, on the Macau Peninsula in 2004, mainland punters practically beat down the doors.

'Macau's transport system is lagging behind the new developments,' said Leong Kam-chun, director of Macau's Concern Group on Public Utilities.

Mr Leong said a proposed light-rail system needed to be built as soon as possible to ease traffic jams.

The government unveiled a revised plan for a 20km rail link last month, but it came under fire for bypassing low-income areas while serving only the casinos.

A new ferry terminal known as Pac On is being built on the north of Taipa island to ease pressure on the city's two ferry terminals. The Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Terminal has been feeling the strain of dealing with 200 to 300 sailings a day.

At least five ferry companies are expected to operate at the new terminal, which will include a heliport. Part of the terminal may go into operation at the end of the year.

The city also needed many more taxis to fuel its tourism growth, according to Mr Leong. There were only 850 taxis for the city of 526,000 residents, he said.

Gaming researcher Davis Fong Ka-chio said Macau could have 26 million tourist arrivals this year and 30 million next year, but its infrastructure was not yet ready.