News that 2 million Shenzhen residents will be allowed to visit Hong Kong freely has left Macau businesses green with envy, but a long-lasting crackdown by the central government on Macau visits shows no sign of easing. Civil servants in Guangdong are allowed just one private Macau visit per year, with exceptions having to be approved by their department heads, according to mainland government sources. Ordinary Guangdong residents can apply for a Macau travel permit once every two months - a rule slightly softer than the limit of one trip every three months reported by travel agents last October. The permit enables single entry and a seven-day stay in Macau. It appears that travel curbs targeting civil servants have been further tightened while ordinary Guangdong residents are finding it slightly easier to visit Macau. This may partially explain why VIP gambling businesses in Macau have taken a hard hit while mass market revenues hold up well. On Tuesday, Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen unveiled measures for Guangdong-Hong Kong co-operation which included an arrangement for Shenzhen residents to enjoy year-round multiple-entry permits for Hong Kong. About 2.6 million Shenzhen residents will be eligible for such permits starting from April 1. Macau government economist and legislator Lao Pun-lap said a joint proposal by the governments in Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau to ease travel curbs had raised hopes among Macau businesses. On February 19, officials from the three regions announced that they would ask the central government to allow Guangdong residents multiple-entry permits for visiting Hong Kong and Macau. Mr Lao said he was hopeful that the travel curbs targeting Macau would be eased later this year after the joint proposal. 'We have to be patient,' he said. 'The central government has continually stressed its support for Hong Kong and Macau.' The travel curbs and the global financial crisis have dealt a double blow to Macau's economy, knocking it off track from its stellar growth. Last June, Guangdong residents were restricted to visiting Macau once a month instead of once a fortnight. From July, they were restricted to visiting once every two months. Since September 1, mainland travellers to Hong Kong have had to get a separate permit to visit Macau. Previously, it was possible to visit both cities on a Hong Kong permit. In October, travel agents in Guangdong said residents had been limited to one trip every three months. The VIP casino revenue, which accounted for 67.8 per cent of the market last year, fell 7.52 per cent from a year ago to 15.61 billion patacas in the fourth quarter. That compares with growth of 8.2 per cent in the more profitable mass market during the same period. In Macau's internet forums, netizens have expressed disappointment that Hong Kong benefits from favourable travel policies while Macau has been left out in the cold. As a Chinese saying goes, a crying baby gets milk. Some netizens attribute Hong Kong's favourable treatment to its relative disobedience towards Beijing. But gaming analyst Zeng Zhonglu said the differential travel policies for the two special administrative regions were a result of gambling-related problems. 'Social problems don't arise from Hong Kong visits by mainland residents,' said Professor Zeng, of Macau Polytechnic Institute. He said the easing of travel curbs would depend on how well Macau could answer the central government's call to diversify its economy and rely less on gambling.