HONG KONG - THE number of visitors to Macau jumped almost 23 per cent last year, putting the fast-growing gambling haven on track to surpass neighbouring Hong Kong as a tourist destination.
The tiny, former Portuguese-ruled enclave of less than half a million people registered more than 27 million arrivals in 2007, up 22.7 per cent from the previous year, according to government statistics.
Hong Kong registered more than 28 million visitor arrivals, an increase of over 10 per cent on 2006. If growth rates are maintained, Macau will take the lead this year.
Once-sleepy Macau returned to Chinese rule in 1999, two years after China regained control of the nearby former British colony of Hong Kong.
Macau has seen its star rise precipitously in the wake of the opening of its casino sector to foreign investment and the loosening of travel restrictions on Chinese tourists in recent years.
Several foreign-owned, Las Vegas-style casino have gone up, including Las Vegas Sands' palatial Venetian Macau, which boasts the biggest casino on earth.
Not surprisingly, the biggest and fastest growing source of visitors to Macau last year was China, accounting for 55 per cent of the total. The number of Chinese visitors grew 24 per cent, according to the statistics. -- REUTERS