Macau’s Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Alexis Tam Chon Weng said the government is working on a report detailing the number of Chinese visitors that have come to Macau since the introduction of the mainland’s Individual Visit Scheme (IVS) in 2003.
The context is what Mr Tam has called the “need to improve” the issuance of visas to individual travellers from mainland China. He reiterated that point again on Wednesday, without clearly spelling out what it might mean in practice.
But it has been reported in the local media that there has been discontent among some locals about the volume of visitors – many from mainland China – causing congestion in some parts of the city.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Mr Tam said the report would analyse the growth in the number of independent travellers from mainland China going to Macau between 2003 and 2015.
The Macao Government Tourist Office has already compiled the data, the official said, quoted in a press statement from the Government Information Bureau. Mr Tam added that he expects the first report to be ready “next week”.
The IVS system allows mainland Chinese living in eligible areas of the mainland to apply for a travel permit to visit Macau individually instead of having to be part of a tour group. It was first implemented in four Guangdong cities and expanded several times between July 2003 and January 2007. The number of cities under the IVS currently stands at 49.
Macau welcomed a record 31.5 million visitors last year, with more than 21.2 million coming from mainland China. The independent travellers accounted for 45 percent of the aggregate mainland visitor arrivals to Macau in 2014.
Mr Tam on Wednesday said the government would deliver a detailed report with suggestions on how to improve the IVS to the central government “before May”, the Portuguese-language channel of Radio Macau reported.
The policy secretary said the government also plans to highlight to mainland authorities the need to find ways to make mainland tourists go to Macau in different seasons of the year. Radio Macau quoted Mr Tam saying that Macau “has no conditions” to receive more tourists during peak periods, such as the Chinese New Year.
According to the public broadcaster, the official acknowledged that any new measures could have an impact on some sectors of the economy and would not be welcomed by all, but said the government would make every effort to come up with a “balanced” policy.
“This policy has to be very prudent and cautious,” he was quoted saying, adding that no decision has yet been made. “We will still review it and discuss with the relevant authorities in China,” he added.
A cap on the number of mainland visitors entering Macau would affect both the number of VIP gamblers and the number of mass casino players, Japanese brokerage Nomura warned last month.
Commenting on the issue on Wednesday, Macau’s Chief Executive, Fernando Chui Sai On, said the government has to take into consideration the livelihood of the city’s residents.
“The IVS policy has been introduced more than 10 years ago, so this is the right time to review it,” Mr Chui was quoted saying in an official statement.
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Alvin Chau Cheok Wa
Chief executive of privately-held VIP junket business Suncity Group