Mainland Chinese influx prompts Macau to mull visitor cap

Mainlanders flocking to the city and crowding its attractions prompt experts to mull a visitor cap, despite the revenue such tourists bring

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 March, 2013, 8:18am

Many of Macau's tourist attractions are buckling under the weight of overcrowding by mainland visitors - a scenario many Hongkongers know only too well.

To curb the worst crowding, tourism officials have now launched a campaign to lure visitors to lesser-known attractions on the island.

A city think tank, the Macau Policy Research Office, is also assessing the feasibility of slapping a quota on visitor numbers.

"We will see how we can, through booklets, maps and signage, direct visitors from [the worst crowded] tourist areas to nearby places that are also rich in historical and cultural colour," said the director of the Macau Government Tourist Office, Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes.

Hotels will also be urged to publicise their fluctuating room rates as early as possible, to help tourists plan their trips.

The tourism chief refused to comment on whether she thought Macau should limit tourist numbers. She estimated that, as in 2012, about 28 million visitors would come to the city this year, with global economic uncertainties holding off a rise in numbers.

She hoped that new hotels being built and improved border-crossing services would mean tourists experience fewer frustrations in the coming months.

Crowding issues peaked over the Lunar New Year holiday, with long queues at immigration and customs crossings.

In reponse to the issue, the chief of the Macau Policy Research Office, Lao Pun-lap, last month announced a study into the individual visitor scheme, which since 2002 has been allowing residents of some mainland cities to travel to Macau individually, instead of in tour groups.

About 1.3 million people - more than double Macau's population of 580,000 - visited the city during the week-long Lunar New Year break this year, a 14 per cent rise from the same holiday period last year, preliminary government figures revealed.

Among the Macau residents hoping for a cap on the number of mainland visitors is May Lai Mei-heng, a secretary in her 50s. "There are hotels near my home," she said. "The streets are packed with mainlanders who are yelling and crossing the street, ignoring the traffic lights."

The streets are packed with mainlanders who are yelling and crossing the street, ignoring the traffic lights

While she does not worry about such measures hurting the economy, as she doesn't benefit directly from the tourism trade, any restrictions are likely to affect the city's pillar industry and government revenues. The move would come as casinos work harder to market themselves to the rising number of middle-class mainland visitors.

Gaming revenue in Macau reported year-on-year growth of 11.5 per cent to 27.1 billion patacas last month, boosted by the flood of mainland visitors over the Lunar New Year.

Direct taxes from gaming this year are expected to bring in about 95 billion patacas - over 80 per cent of the city's total revenue of 115 billion patacas - the Macau Financial Services Bureau said.

Of the 28 million visitors to Macau last year, mainlanders accounted for 17 million visits - a 4.6 per cent increase from 2011.

City leaders, however, are concerned that the number of Hongkongers and Taiwanese who visited the city dropped by 6.6 per cent and 12 per cent, respectively, last year - the first decline from Hong Kong since almost a decade ago.

"We will carry out research into this, as we find the figure a bit alarming," said Stanley Mok Siu-kwong, general manager of the Macau Government Tourist Office in Hong Kong.