Macau casinos help draw tourists to Hong Kong

The lure of spanking new casinos next door has helped Hong Kong attract a record number of tourists last month, analysts said last week. But despite that figure, fewer visitors stayed for at least one night over the first eight months of the year.

But despite the rosy figure, fewer visitors stayed for at least one night over the first eight months of the year, against the same period last year, reflecting the challenges Hong Kong faces from Macau and other regional destinations.

Still, some industry experts in Hong Kong believe that it is not a zero-sum game, as there are enough travellers making their way to both Hong Kong and Macau.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board said that it received almost 2.76 million visitors in August, up 16.9 per cent from the same time last year. It is also the highest single-month total on record. Most of the visitors last month were mainlanders travelling to the city.

The number of mainland tourists in Hong Kong grew by almost 25 per cent to 1.7 million in August, from the same month last year. This brought the January-to-August total of mainland arrivals to 10.2 million-an annual gain of almost 10 per cent.

Hong Kong and Macau are set to host even more visitors, as mainlanders begin their National Day Golden Week holidays. Macau’s 27th casino, the mammoth USD 2.4 billion Venetian, opened last month to join the ranks of other relatively new names such as the Grand Lisboa and Wynn Macau. It attracted a million visitors within 17 days of its opening, or almost 60,000 per day–the full capacity of the former Singapore National Stadium.

The difference between such new casinos and their previous incarnations is that the focus is not just on gambling but also includes exhibitions, shopping and theatre shows.

Michael Li, executive director of the Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners, said that the city has received fewer hotel bookings for the coming week-long holiday. „The average occupancy rate for three-star hotels, frequented by mainland tourists, is estimated to drop by 6-7 percentage points to 80 per cent,“ he told the media yesterday.
„The number of overnight stays in Hong Kong has been hit because people are going to Macau.“

On the other hand, Travel Industry Council executive director Joseph Tung expressed separately that the situation is not a zero-sum game. He estimated that the number of mainland tourists will rise by 5-10 per cent this week against the same period last year.
„While the Venetian would have an impact, more visitors in total will visit both Hong Kong and Macau,“ he said.

Others pointed out too, that while the average hotel occupancy in the January-to-August period dipped slightly to 85 per cent, tourism figures showed daily room rates actually grew to USD 147, or 12.7 per cent higher year-on-year. This, industry players and analysts said, reflected a rise in affluent and business travellers who stay in five- and six-star establishments.

Hong Kong Tourism Board chairman James Tien intends to meet Macau tourism officials next month to discuss ways of joint partnership. „Tourists can come to Hong Kong to shop, eat, visit Disneyland and then off to Macau to gamble,“ he said in a radio programme. „The two cities should cooperate to attract tourists together.“