Macau’s Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Cheong U, and mainland China officials have discussed whether changes should be made to the Individual Visit Scheme (IVS), the government has confirmed to GGRAsia.
The scheme allows mainland passport holders to visit Macau and Hong Kong as independent travellers rather than as part of a tour group.
“Optimisation of the Individual Visit Scheme was discussed during a meeting between Secretary Cheong and officials from the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council, and the Ministry of Public Security on June 23,” a spokesman from the secretary’s cabinet told GGRAsia via email.
Public broadcaster Radio Macau, citing government sources, had first reported on its Chinese-language service that the IVS policy was under discussion between the government and mainland officials.
Local residents have expressed concerns in mainstream and social media about the growth in visitor arrivals. Some tourism experts and tourism industry insiders have called for a strategic plan to ascertain the city’s capacity to receive more visitors.
More than 61 million tourists from mainland China have visited Macau with individual visas between July 2003, when the IVS was launched, and December 2013, show figures from the Public Security Police.
Beijing’s new chief representative in Macau, Li Gang, said in January there would be no “blind expansion” of mainland tourism to the city, adding that the central government had no plan to expand the existing IVS to new cities. A total of 270 million people in 49 mainland cities – about a fifth of China’s population – are currently eligible to apply to visit Macau and Hong Kong under the IVS, according to Hong Kong’s Tourism Commission.
In May, 727,356 mainlanders travelled to Macau on their own, up 21 percent year-on-year. IVS tourist numbers are up by 20.9 percent year-on-year in the first five months of 2014 to 3.8 million, according to GGRAsia calculations based on official data.
“Measures … to improve the scheme need further discussion and studies, and will be announced in due course,” the Macau government spokesman said on Wednesday. He did not elaborate on what measures are being discussed.
Earlier this year, Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun Ying said Beijing had agreed on a “temporary” freeze on the number of cities covered by the IVS. The scheme was last expanded in January 2007.
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"The [Macau] government has a lead in this subject in regards to what should be done after the [gaming] concessions expire. We will be first listening to what the government will say”
Ambrose So Shu Fai
Vice-chairman and chief executive at Macau casino operator SJM Holdings