Most people in Macau, from tourists to academics and business leaders, feel bullish about the city's flourishing fortunes despite conceding that no economy is immune to boom-and-bust cycles. Every day, they see casinos, taxi stands, buses, hotels and restaurants overflowing with people. 'No one, not even our government, can guarantee that this boom will last for ever,' said Franco Fan, a Sands casino baccarat dealer who was unemployed just nine months ago. 'Given my own experience, I am confident about our economy.' Rosy figures complete the picture. Gross domestic product grew 25.6 per cent in the first quarter of this year. The gaming sector grew 38.3 per cent, while tourism spending grew 29.7 per cent. The key to sustaining Macau's growth is diversifying the gaming-oriented economy, as well as improving the quality of its workforce and expanding its infrastructure, analysts say. The buoyant economy will not slow any time soon, predicts Ambrose So Shu-fai, director of Sociedade de Jogos de Macau, which operates 12 casinos in town. 'This is only the beginning,' Mr So said. 'As long as China keeps its doors open, this is just our first step.' A few sceptics say the city's 448,500 residents could be over- dependent on its gaming sector, which accounts for three-quarters of government tax revenues. Competition is heating up from casinos in South Korea and Malaysia and on cruise ships, and from online gambling. Gaming is also susceptible to events such as the Gulf war and the Sars outbreak that disrupt travel. Once a more integral part of Macau's economy, sectors such as financial services, textile manufacturing and real estate are now taking a back seat. But Mr So said although the government had positioned gaming and tourism as the leading industries, Macau did not risk becoming a one-dimensional economy. The tourism industry was diversified, he said. For instance, cultural tourism was an important factor often overlooked even by Macau residents. 'Many people can name the 12 casinos, but can you name the 12 heritage sites in Macau that Unesco will consider declaring as World Heritage in 2005?' he said. The government also has promoted the city as a destination for conventions and exhibitions. Talks at the recent Pan-Pearl River Delta Regional Co-operation and Development Forum are expected to result in plenty of fresh non-gaming business opportunities for Macau. Whether Macau's infrastructure can meet the demands of its booming tourism sector is another matter. 'During the Chinese New Year, there was almost a total breakdown [in services],' recalls Leonardo Dioko, who is the management professor at the Institute for Tourism Studies with the Tourism College of Macau. 'There were long queues at the emergency rooms in hospitals. Even local residents couldn't find a table in restaurants. This could be a preview of things to come.' Professor Dioko leads an ongoing, government-commissioned study to monitor the satisfaction levels of the 12 million tourists who visit the city each year. He estimates that Macau's capacity for visitors is 43,000 arrivals a day - or 15.7 million a year - a level that the city is expected to reach in three to four years. A spokesman for the Macau Association of Retailers and Tourism Services, Frederick Yip Wing-fat, said the study helped the government anticipate the city's infrastructure needs. The government was aware of these problems and had many projects in the pipeline to ensure a steady rate of growth, he said. With the prospect of low-budget carriers likely to boost passenger traffic at the Macau International Airport, and an expected boon from the completion of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, tourists will be able to enjoy a smoother transport system. Mr Yip also hopes Macau's shortage of hotel rooms - which forced some travel agents to book tourists into Zhuhai hotels during last October's 'golden week' holiday - will soon be resolved. The number of hotel rooms, which took 15 years to double from 1986 to 2002, is projected to grow sixfold by 2009. Apart from infrastructure improvements, the city also needs to cultivate an appropriately skilled workforce to serve the economy. Labour shortages have forced many hotels and casinos to import foreign workers at both entry and management levels. Professions such as accounting, nursing and business administration have been plagued by a brain drain as many experienced staff opt for opportunities in Hong Kong or abroad. Macau Tourism and Casino Career Centre director Raymond Chan Wai-man said market forces would resolve the problem over time. The government-operated centre was launched last August to offer free training courses to equip Macau residents with the necessary skills to obtain entry-level employment in the city's gaming and hospitality industries. 'Demand for labour in the hospitality and gaming industries will drive up wages, and in turn attract the right professionals to fill job vacancies,' Professor Chan said. To fully mobilise Macau's labour force, the government is considering policies to encourage part-time employment, Secretary of Economy and Finance Francis Tam Pak-yuen recently confirmed.