Macau and its mainland neighbour Hengqin Island will strive to push for a visa-free regime for foreigners wishing to visit the latter, reported several Chinese-language media outlets.
They cited as the initial source a senior mainland official from Hengqin, following a Monday meeting. The island – which is planning a raft of non-gaming, tourism-related facilities – has been touted as destination that could be marketed alongside Macau’s casino-resort offering. The idea is to create a two-centre market of international as well as regional appeal. It is up to China’s central government to decide entry visa policy applicable to foreigners with regard to Hengqin.
Yang Chuan, director of the administrative committee of what is known as “Hengqin New Area” – shorthand for a mainland zone with particular privileges when it comes to inward investment – said he had met representatives from Beijing’s liaison office based Macau, as well as people from two of Macau’s tourism trade associations. All of them had been on a site visit to several of the island’s non-gaming tourism projects.
Mr Yang was cited as suggesting a formal mechanism should be set up within the local tourism sector, to “strengthen exchanges” and explore cooperation between Macau and Hengqin in that regard.
Wong Fai, president of Macau Leisure Tourism Services Innovation Association, took part in the Monday visit to Hengqin. He gave GGRAsia some more detail regarding the proposal for easing visa formalities for foreigners that might be interested in going to Hengqin.
“We are actually proposing whether some arrangement like 72-hour visa-free transit can be done for those international visitors that wish to travel to Hengqin. In that way, it gives the visitors more flexibility in planning their trips in Macau and Hengqin,” Mr Wong explained to us.
Visa-free transit schemes
China’s government had previously introduced a scheme in selected large mainland cities allowing holders of certain passports visa-free stay for transit trips. Initially the scheme was for 72-hour visits. That was extended this year to 144 hours. Guangzhou, the principal city of Guangdong Province, the mainland jurisdiction neighbouring Macau, is included in that scheme.
Mr Wong told us: “It is a goal for both Macau and Hengqin to attract more international visitors”.
He also suggested Macau-licensed tourist coaches should be allowed to travel freely to Hengqin. Such a move would require an extension of the current scheme that allows certain Macau-licensed private vehicles to travel in Hengqin under a quota system stipulated by the Zhuhai authorities and the Macau government.
A few non-gaming facilities have been developed, such as a Chimelong theme park. Others are being developed, and some are still in the planning or fund-raising stage.
A highway and bridge links Hengqin to Macau’s Cotai district, the latter the location for most of Macau’s newest large-scale gaming resorts. Hengqin is due to see improved transport links soon to its parent community Zhuhai in Guangdong, and Macau.
A spur line to China’s high-speed intercity railway network was officially completed on Tuesday. It will connect Zhuhai’s Gongbei border crossing point – the main land route into Macau from mainland China – to Hengqin Island. The spur line was likely to be ready for operations by November this year, reported several mainland China media outlets, citing the project contractor.
The spur line is an extension to the Guangzhou-Zhuhai Intercity Railway. The spur will also link Hengqin to Zhuhai Airport.
The Hengqin and Macau authorities have also envisaged plans for a connection between Hengqin’s spur line and Macau’s yet-to-be-opened light rail transit system. There has been no official announcement on the likely timing of such a move.
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"There’s a huge amount of possibilities out there and in the case of Macau, it seems that some of these issues should be considered or we may lose the epithet of gambling capital of the world"
Macau-based lawyer and senior partner at law firm Rato, Ling, Lei and Cortés