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Some 21 million mainlanders visited Macau last year - a 14.1 per cent increase on 2013. Photo: Bloomberg

Macau tourist arrivals up 7.5 per cent amid fall in gambling revenue

Last year's total of 31 million visitors a 7.5pc jump, despite gaming revenue slide

Amy Nip

Macau is attracting more visitors, although fewer gamblers are placing their bets in the troubled casino capital.

The city received 31.5 million visitors last year - a 7.5 per cent jump over 2013 - the Macau Government Tourist Office said yesterday. This contrasted with a predicted 9 per cent drop in gaming revenue for this year, on the heels of a 2.6 per cent drop in revenue last year - the first decline since the government began compiling such data in 2002.

The visitor numbers provided a rare positive note after a troubled year for the city as Beijing's crackdown on graft hit the former Portuguese enclave hard and poured cold water on the lucrative VIP gaming market. Beijing has also stepped up attempts to prevent illicit money flows through the casinos as it puts pressure on corrupt mainland officials who route money abroad.

"The gambling business went down in the second half of last year, but tourist numbers continued to increase," said Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes, tourist office director.

"The growing momentum of mainland tourists was especially strong. We are thrilled to know tourists don't necessarily come here to gamble."

The number of mainland visitors to the former Portuguese enclave rose 14.1 per cent year-on-year to 21 million last year, which accounted for about two-thirds of the total number of visitors. The growth comes despite the economic slowdown and President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign.

Fernandes said Macau would step up promotion of leisure travel in mainland cities, especially beyond Guangdong. "Many of them still link Macau to gambling," she said.

Arrivals from Hong Kong, Macau's second biggest source of visitors, has dropped for the last three consecutive years and were down 5 per cent to 6.4 million last year from 2013.

Credit rating agency Moody's Investor Service forecast revenues from mainland tourists would continue to moderate as the anti-corruption campaign bites and the mainland economy weakens. Last week, one of the biggest junket operators - which loan cash to high-rollers and set up their visits to casinos - was reported to be closing four of its five VIP gaming rooms.

Last year, international visitor numbers in Macau fell 1.1 per cent. Tourist spending on gambling stayed the same in the first nine months of last year, Fernandes said, but she expected "there could be a drop in the fourth quarter".

There was, however, an increase of about 5 per cent in non-gambling expenditure, including spending on retail and dining.

As part of the non-gambling attractions, four new walking routes with heritage themes have been designed and new lighting shows will be held in various neighbourhoods to attract tourists away from the city centre.

As well, several thousand more hotel rooms will be available this year with more to follow.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Macau visits up … but the bets are off