Dou­ble act on hori­zon

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By EMMA DAI in Hong Kong em­madai@chi­nadai­

As Ma­cao seeks to boost mass-mar­ket gam­ing rev­enue with di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion as its eco­nomic en­gine, the jour­ney will likely connect in the near fu­ture with Hengqin in Zhuhai, an­a­lysts said.

“The devel­op­ment of Hengqin, which tar­gets nongam­ing tourism, is the key to Ma­cao’s econ­omy,” said Billy Ng, head of Asia gam­ing at Bank of Amer­ica Mer­rill Lynch Global Re­search.

“Di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion is the di­rec­tion of Ma­cao, which needs a lot more land. Ma­cao gov­ern­ment can re­claim more, but it is al­ready avail­able on Hengqin Is­land. It’s crit­i­cal to see how the two places in­te­grate in the next few years,” Ng added.

Link­ing Hengqin, Zhuhai’s largest is­land, with Co­tai, Ma­cao’s new gam­ing town, is the Lo­tus Bridge — which is less than 200 me­ters long.

The Lo­tus bor­der gate be­gan 24-hour ser­vice on Dec 18, boost­ing daily pas­sen­ger ca­pac­ity from 20,000 to 100,000. The round-the-clock bor­der ser­vice is con­sid­ered to be only a “small first step” for a tourism hub com­bin­ing Hengqin and Ma­cao, pro­vid­ing both gam­ing and nongam­ing at­trac­tions.

“It would be ideal if peo­ple could com­mute more eas­ily be­tween Ma­cao and Hengqin,” said Ng. “There hasn’t been any re­lax­ation on mul­ti­ple en­try to Ma­cao for Chi­nese main­land tourists, who could then stay in Hengqin ho­tels and visit Ma­cao gam­ing re­sorts sev­eral times. If things evolve in that way, there’s a huge po­ten­tial for Ma­cao to be­come a key tourism des­ti­na­tion.” Ng said with at­trac­tions such as the Chime­l­ong Ocean King­dom, a theme park that mim­ics its Hong Kong peer, Hengqin is set to be­come a vast at­trac­tion for mass-mar­ket vis­i­tors, es­pe­cially fam­i­lies.

Opened a year ago, Ocean King­dom is said to be the big­gest of its kind in the world. Dur­ing the Spring Fes­ti­val “Golden Week” last year, the theme park re­ceived more than 400,000 vis­i­tors.

At the same time, mass­mar­ket vis­i­tors are be­ing des­per­ately sought by Ma­cao casi­nos, which have re­lied on VIPs for too long. “By in­creas­ing the share of mass-mar­ket busi­ness, Hengqin will be sup­port­ive to the sec­tor in the long run,” Ng said.

Ac­cord­ing to a Bar­clays re­port, mass-mar­ket pen­e­tra­tion is low in Ma­cao. While in Las Ve­gas the do­mes­tic pen­e­tra­tion rate was at 10 per­cent in 2013, the equiv­a­lent pen­e­tra­tion num­ber for main­land vis­i­tors was “very low” at 1.4 per­cent in Ma­cao. How­ever, it is al­ready up from just 0.2 per­cent in 2011.

The spend­ing power of po­ten­tial vis­i­tors is also a source of com­fort.

While Guang­dong con­trib­utes 44 per­cent of vis­i­tor ar­rivals in Ma­cao in 2013, the next top seven prov­inces com­bined ac­count for just 18 per­cent. How­ever, their av­er­age per capita GDP is 5 per­cent higher than that of Guang­dong, while their per capita ur­ban house­hold dis­pos­able in­come is sim­i­lar.

“We there­fore be­lieve that growth of vis­i­tors from th­ese rel­a­tively more pen­e­trated re­gions could likely con­tinue,” the re­port pre­dicted.

“Af­ter all, Ma­cao is the best place to op­er­ate casi­nos world­wide. There’s no (other) ju­ris­dic­tion as good,” said Lawrence Ho Yau-lung, cochair­man and CEO of Melco Crown En­ter­tain­ment Ltd. “In 2017, the Hong Kong-ZhuhaiMa­cao Bridge will be a fully trans­for­ma­tional el­e­ment.”

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