Hopes are growing in Macau that Beijing will relax controls over mainlanders visiting the former Portuguese enclave. The travel curbs and the global financial crisis have dealt a double blow to Macau's economy, knocking it off the track of stellar growth and onto the brink of recession. But optimists see a state leader's encouraging words, two upcoming elections and the smooth debut of a national security bill as signs Beijing will ease travel curbs. Vice-Premier Li Keqiang on Sunday said the central government would 'fully support' Macau Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah and his administration when the two met at an expo in Chengdu . Mr Li said the central government would 'actively help Macau cope with the impact of the global financial turmoil' and 'firmly uphold Macau's prosperity and stability'. Macau government economist and legislator Lao Pun-lap said he was hopeful that Beijing would take Macau out of its economic 'winter' for the sake of stability ahead of two key elections. Macau will elect its new chief executive and Legislative Assembly next year. From June 1, Guangdong residents were restricted to visiting Macau once a month instead of once a fortnight. From July 1, it became once every two months. Since September 1, mainland travellers to Hong Kong have had to get a separate permit to visit Macau. From October 1, residents of some Guangdong cities have been limited to visiting Macau once every three months. Guangdong is a major market for Macau's gaming industry. The year-on-year growth of mainland visitors to Macau under the Individual Visit Scheme began to slow in June, and fell into negative territory in August. Last month, 371,129 mainlanders visited Macau under the scheme, down 24.6 per cent from a year ago, while 689,891 came to Hong Kong, up 19 per cent year on year. Macau's real gross domestic product growth in the first half was 26.07 per cent, but finance minister Francis Tam Pak-yuen last month forecast the full year's growth rate would be just 10 per cent. Macau relied on casino revenue for about 60 per cent of its GDP in the year to June. Political commentator Camoes Tam Chi-keung said stimulus measures would likely follow Mr Li's words of support. 'A top official like Mr Li does not make such high-profile remarks for nothing,' he said. Mr Tam said Beijing had resorted to imposing the travel curbs due to money laundering. 'Corrupt officials laundered tens of billions of yuan through Macau casinos,' he said. 'The central government found it hard to separate ordinary tourists from officials who were gambling ... so it put restrictions on everyone.' Beijing was caught in a dilemma between keeping Macau's economy alive and stemming money laundering, Mr Tam said. '[Now] the central government may have found a way to screen border crossers.' Hopes for stimulus measures are also rising in the hard-hit property sector, which has seen housing prices down more than 30 per cent from January, according to Rico Kwok, executive director of the Centaline property agency in Macau. Mr Kwok said the sector was hoping for an easing of travel curbs and the revival of an investment immigration scheme, suspended last April. Both Mr Lao and Mr Kwok cited Macau people's patriotism - shown in their readiness to enact the Article 23 national security law - as a reason for Beijing's support. A similar proposal spurred a massive protest in Hong Kong in 2003, but Macau people showed little hostility in a consultation this month. 'Macau people only talked about how to define certain phrases and how to avoid freedom being restricted,' Mr Lao said. 'The central government should be satisfied with the social situation in Macau.' Macau casino investor Melco International Development's group finance director John Wang said last week Macau could see an easing of visa restrictions by mid-2009, according to Citigroup analysts. Melco's management argued that the easing of visa restrictions may be used to try to gain favour ahead of next year's election.