Macau International Airport (pictured) recorded in 2016 the highest volume of passenger traffic in its 21-year history, according to data released on Monday by its operator.
There were 6.6 million movements of passengers in the 12 months to December 31, and more than 56,000 aircraft movements, representing growth respectively of 14 percent and 2 percent year-on-year.
During 2016 the air hub linked the city to 41 destinations in, respectively, mainland China, Taiwan, Southeast Asia and North Asia.
The improvement in volumes “came from the joint effort and close cooperation among each of our business partners, to cope with [sic] the Macau SAR Government policy to build up Macau into a world centre of tourism and leisure,” said a press release from Macau International Airport Co Ltd.
That was a reference to efforts by the Macau authorities to diversify the city’s tourism economy beyond high-stakes, high-roller casino gambling, and in particular to move the city beyond being a playground for a handful of southern Chinese provinces and regions.
In the 11 months to November 30, approximately 90.5 percent of the nearly 28.14 million tourists visiting Macau originated from either the mainland, Hong Kong or Taiwan, according to data released on December 28 by Macau’s Statistics and Census Service, as recorded by the city’s Public Security Police.
Other data collected by the statistics bureau have consistently indicated that overnight visitors to Macau spend more money than same-day trippers. Many passengers arriving in Macau by air are likely to have made a commitment to stay in the city for at least one night. Prior to 2008, Macau airport’s numbers were inflated by transit passengers travelling between the mainland and Taiwan. Only in that year did China permit regular scheduled services between the mainland and Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a province of China, not an independent state.
Overnight vs day trips
Macau’s general tourism arrival data for November indicated that – as with some previous months – the number of overnight visitors exceeded the number of same-day trippers. The number of overnight visitors during November rose 10.4 percent year-on-year, contributing to a 9.1-percent improvement in the number of such visitors in the 11 months to November 30. In the same 11-month period, the same-day visitor tally fell 7.4 percent year-on-year.
Brokerage Sanford C. Bernstein Ltd had said in previous commentary that the growth trend in overnight visitors is positive for Macau’s casino industry, as this type of tourist was “considered more valuable to Macau compared with day trippers”.
The majority of gamblers in Macau’s casinos are tourists to the city. But several investment analysts have said that headline visitor numbers historically are not directly correlated to overall gaming demand, as gross gaming revenue in the Macau market has been typically skewed to high-end play.
The airport’s operator said in its Monday release regarding the facility’s air passenger numbers: “In 2016, the mainland China market increased by 4 percent, [and the] China Taiwan and Southeast Asia market increased by 15 percent and 20 percent respectively”.
The airport company added: “In 2017, a number of infrastructure projects is expected to be completed which include the north terminal building expansion project: upon completion, the airport capacity will increase to 7.5 million passengers per annum.”
It further noted that a hangar for business jets would be completed in 2017.
“The new facilities will help to attract more high-end travellers, enriching the market diversification,” said the operator.
“The airport runway will be optimised by overlaying, to further enhance the carrying capacity and safety performance,” the operating company additionally stated.
“Macau International Airport will continue to serve as the air bridge connecting Macau to the world… we will fully develop long-haul routes, aiming to increase and change the current passenger market structure, thus attracting more international and local travellers flying to and from Macau International Airport,” said the airport firm.
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"Given the opaque nature of the VIP segment (56 percent of gross gaming revenue in first quarter 2017), forecasting Macau GGR with a fair amount of certainty is difficult; therefore, we remain cautious"