By Poyi (Natalie) Leung
Macau’s tourism and civil aviation sectors are seemingly feeling the impacts brought by the direct Cross-Strait air links, as the latest official statistics have reported a record low number of Taiwanese citizens visiting the SAR.
In the statement released by Taiwan’s Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) yesterday, it has been indicated that the number of Taiwanese citizens travelling to Macau between January and February this year dropped 23.1 percent year-on-year to 90,000, marking the lowest level since 1999.
Hong Kong, which was the second most popular destination for Taiwanese people, also reported the lowest number since 2001, with a 10.5 percent decline to 350,000.
The MOTC officials attributed the decrease to the launch of direct and regular air transport between Taiwan and mainland China in late 2008, resulting in a decrease in the number of passengers taking interchange flights at Macau or Hong Kong airport as a method of entry to the mainland.
It appears according to the statistics that around 400,000 Taiwanese citizens visited mainland China in the first two months of this year, an increase of 16.4 percent year-on-year.
The results have echoed the information of visitor arrivals announced by the Statistics and Census Service of Macau over the past months.
The most recent data for February 2011 showed that in spite of those figures, Taiwan remained the third largest source of visitors to the SAR, however numbers have continued to decline to 86,293, down 13.8 percent when compared to the same month of 2010.
In December 2010 and January 2011, the number of visitors arriving from Taiwan was 105,747 and 92,123, a year-on-year drop of 7.4 percent and 20.4 percent respectively.
The proportion of Taiwanese people to total visitor arrivals between December 2010 and February 2011 therefore went down from 4.7 percent, to 4.4 percent and then to 3.98 percent respectively.
Secretary of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre in Macau, Chen Yi Chun, agreed with the MOTC that Macau’s tourism sector was affected by the direct Cross-Strait air links. “[Taiwanese people] will fly to China via Macau only when there is no direct flight to that mainland city where they want to go.”
Macau is mostly known for its world heritage and gaming industry, but Chen told the Macau Daily Times yesterday that casino’s generally ‘don’t appeal to Taiwanese people’.
She also pointed out that if a Taiwanese traveller has to choose between Hong Kong and Macau; one would likely prefer the former because of its ‘wider selection of shops that can offer a more affordable shopping experience’.
“Most of the shops in Macau sell luxury goods and it’s not what the Taiwanese people are keen for,” she added.
As an incentive, Chen suggested air carriers offer tickets to Macau at a cheaper rate than flying to mainland China, or provide bus connection services from Macau to Zhuhai or Guangzhou for Taiwanese business travellers.
However, president of the Macau Travel Industry, Andy Wu Keng Kuong, said the situation in fact is not how it seems.
He explained to the MDTimes that the past statistics included a large number of transit passengers and only a small proportion of the Taiwanese visitors had stayed overnight in the territory.
“I believe the 900,000 people were the real visitors who had stayed in a local hotel and spent money here,” Wu said.
Taiwanese people, who ‘mostly travel to Macau individually without joining a tour group’, nowadays see the city as ‘a place for vacation rather than for plane interchange’, he added.
Nevertheless, the tourism industry practitioner has called on the SAR Government to reinforce publicity campaigns highlighting other aspects of Macau, such as its traditional cuisine and pre-wedding photo opportunities at its colourful historical sites.
Meanwhile, the Macau Government Tourist Office (MGTO) said in a statement to the MDTimes yesterday that a ‘Macau Treasure Hunt Joy’ campaign has recently been launched in Taiwan, which aims to attract ‘tourists of varying interests’ to the territory.
“MGTO aims to work closely with Taiwan travel trade to launch different tour products targeting family, elderly, newly wed couples and white collar travellers. Visitors can experience Macau in different ways at different times,” the statement continued.
The board also said “Macau will strengthen regional tourism cooperation and develop more multi-destination tour products”.