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By Tony Lai


C


‘Saved’ by tourists?


hina’s slowdown and simmering trade war with Washington appear to have had little impact on the SAR. The city announced recently a surge in tourist arrivals for 2018. Macau – which rakes in five times the gaming


revenue of Las Vegas – said 35.8 million people visited in 2018, a 10 per cent jump on the year before. Macau’s gambling revenues were hit hard in 2014 when


Chinese president Xi Jinping announced a crackdown on corrupt officials. The city had long been a playpen for China’s elites and a useful way for the wealthy and corrupt to siphon money overseas.


The sudden slump pushed tourism officials to look for ways


to become less reliant on the casino sector although in the last two years the city’s gaming fortunes have bounced back. Macau has recorded 28 straight months of gaming


revenue growth, according to a Bloomberg News analysis, although growth towards the end of 2018 slowed to single digits, a potential sign of jitters mirroring the mainland’s economic slowdown. Tourism officials said last year’s spike showed that their


push to advertise Macau as more than just a gambling hub – such as promoting the former territory under Portuguese administration’s culinary heritage – was paying dividends. They also said numbers were boosted by the October opening of a new bridge connecting the gambling hub to the mainland city of Zhuhai and neighbouring Hong Kong, with 1.05 million visitors crossing so far. The bridge has provoked complaints from locals in both Macau and Hong Kong that too many Chinese mainlanders are coming in each day to overcrowded districts. Helena de Senna Fernandes, the city’s tourism director,


admitted 35 million was “quite a big number” and said officials would try to encourage more tourists to spread out into less visited places within the city.


20 MARCH 2019


Macau shrugs off China downturn “Of course we have to take into account the concerns of


local residents,” she told reporters. The figures show Macau is still overwhelmingly reliant on


visitors from Hong Kong and the mainland who made up 32.6 million arrivals. Visits by mainlanders, who account for 90 per cent of Macau’s gamblers, were up 13 per cent at 25 million. But international tourist arrivals dropped 1.1 per cent to 3.1 million.


Locals and some industry insiders have fretted that the


new bridge will increase daily visitors, who spend less than those who stay in hotels. However the 2018 figures showed overnight visitors


increased 7.2 per cent and currently account for 51.7 per cent of all arrivals.


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