China’s State Council issued a statement on Monday saying that it has agreed, in principle, to a proposal raised to develop Hengqin as an “island for international leisure and tourism”.
The statement was addressed to the Guangdong provincial government and the National Development and Reform Commission. But the details of the proposal to make Hengqin an international destination for leisure and tourism have not been included in Monday’s statement.
The Chinese authorities envisage Hengqin as a draw for tourists, with non-gaming attractions to complement Macau’s casinos and tourism highlights. Hengqin is next door to Macau. A highway and bridge joins the island to Macau’s Cotai district.
The initiative proposed for Hengqin is aligned with mainland China’s policy of promoting the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area. The outline plan for the Greater Bay Area – published in February – mentioned that Hengqin would be developed into a “high-standard international leisure and tourism island” in order to “complement Macau’s development into a world tourism and leisure centre”.
Monday’s statement from the State Council said that the development of Hengqin should also support the “moderate economic diversification” of Macau.
The statement also suggested that Hengqin should “actively pursue” the development as a “free trade pilot zone”, and that the island should also be positioned as an “eco-friendly” destination.
The proposal to develop Hengqin as an “island for international leisure and tourism” was submitted to the State Council a year ago, according to mainland China’s media reports.
Prior to these announced government initiatives, a number of non-gaming tourism projects planned or being developed by Hong Kong-listed companies – some of them Macau-based casino operators – already exist in Hengqin.
Hong Kong-listed Lai Fung Holdings Ltd is developing a multi-phase non-gaming attraction named “Novotown” in Hengqin. The first phase of the Novotown site is to include Lionsgate Entertainment World; a venue called National Geographic Ultimate Explorer; and a Hengqin Hyatt Regency Hotel among its attractions. The Lionsgate-themed venue should open in the first half of next year and is described as “Asia’s first movie-themed indoor interactive experience” for the Hollywood film studio.
Macau casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd has also mentioned in its company filings that it is planning to develop a “low-density integrated resort” on a land parcel in Hengqin. Hong Kong-listed Macau Legend Development Ltd, the promoter of the Macau Fisherman’s Wharf complex, also has a stake in a new shopping complex branded as “PONTO” in Hengqin island, due to open by the end of this year.
But to boost the tourism trade between Hengqin and Macau, there had been voices in Macau’s gaming industry that suggested an easing of border formalities between the two places should be encouraged.
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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