Macao is expected to catch up with Hong Kong in the near future in terms of mainland tourist traffic, an expert said.
The estimation is based on the increasing trend of Macao's growing shares in the mainland tourist market and Macao's enriching tourism facilities.
The number of mainland tourists bound for Macao has been rising since 1999, causing annual growth of over 30 percent between 1999 and 2004, said Dai Bin, a professor at Beijing International Studies University, in a recent interview.
Although the growth rate has slowed a little in the past two years, it still beat the comparative rate for Hong Kong last year, when Macao registered 14.6 percent growth compared to Hong Kong's 8.4 percent.
Dai described the current gap as "narrow."
Last year, 11.99 million mainland tourists visited Macao while 13.50 million visited its larger rival.
In the past there was even less parity. Only a decade ago, 530,000 mainlanders visited Macao compared to four times as many in Hong Kong.
Dai said the gap was caused by two factors - Macao used to rely on Hong Kong's transportation facilities, and tour promotions always highlighted Hong Kong as a metropolitan paradise for shoppers.
Macao was long overshadowed by Hong Kong, which also formed part of the route to Macao for many travelers, he said.
To help correct the imbalance, Macao expanded its airport, introduced the Venetian Macao Resort-Hotel and spent more on promoting tourism.
The Venetian Macao opened on August 28 as reportedly the largest hotel in Asia. It has since added 3,000 rooms, multiple entertainment facilities, and 110,000 sq m of convention area to Macao's tourism resources. At least 44 exhibitions and fairs have already booked the convention facilities, which will be occupied until next April.
Dai said these efforts have given domestic and international tourism a major boost.
"The mainland, Hong Kong and Macao have formed a tourist circle, supplementing each other with different tourism resources," he said.
The circle will gradually grow in stature as China moves to wield a stronger influence on the global market, especially in Southeast Asia, he added.
At present, residents of 33 mainland cities can travel to Macao, while Chinese in other parts of the country have to join tour groups to go there.
(China Daily October 1, 2007)