Macao: not only a gambling city

08:54, December 15, 2009      

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Although widely-known as a gambling city, Macao is also rich in cultural heritage, according to a tourism official in Macao.

"Macao has been a place where the West meets the East for over 400 years and it has rich cultural heritage," Chen Zhijie, director of the Association of Macau Tourist Agents, told in an exclusive interview on December 6.

Portuguese traders settled in Macao in the early 1550s, making the city a perfect crossroad for the meeting of Eastern and Western cultures. Macao is home to a number of different religions and customs, a mixture of different styles of architectures as well as a great variety of food.

Macao is also increasing its cultural appeal with events like dragon boat races, firework displays, and music and art festivals.

According to Chen, Macao is also a perfect place for shopping.

"Visitors from different areas can satisfy their varying shopping desires, either for price-competitive jewellery, local food or cosmetics. Some luxury brands like LV have opened flagship stores in Macao," he said. "Macao will gradually develop into a shopping paradise."

Tourists spend an average of just 1.3 nights in Macao for each visit and spend 1,500 to 2,000 HKD for consumption there. According to Chen, "If you want to get a deeper understanding of Macao, you need more time (than just one or two days). He added "Some tourists, after touring Macao for five days, quite enjoy themselves in the unique culture and local customs."

Chen believes that Macao's tourism administration and tourism industry need to do more to promote the cultural aspect of Macao.

Chen also explained that Macao needs to further diversify the sources of its tourists. About 20.9 million tourists visited Macao last year, foreign visitors accounted for 14.5 percent, a substantial increase from a figure of under 5 percent in 2003. Chen suggested the government open more direct flights to Macao from overseas cities to bring in more visitors from outside China.

In the first 10 months of this year, tourist arrivals fell by 7.8 percent year on year. Chen believes this is partly due to the ongoing global financial crisis and A/H1N1 flu.

The SAR government launched a program to revitalize its sliding tourism industry in May and visitor arrivals have begun to recover since August with the number of visitors for September and October exceeding that of last year.

Chen is optimistic about Macao's future tourism development as the region develops a diversified economy.

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