For baccarat and business, Indians head for Macau

By Kavita Bajeli-Datt, IANS,

Macau : The itinerant Indian with a penchant for the gaming tables seems to have found a new destination. Always on the lookout for new pastures to explore, tens of thousands of Indians are flocking to this Chinese enclave with its picturesque coastline, grand hotels and, of course, all night casinos.

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There has been an astonishing 94.4 percent growth rate in the number of tourists that visited this former Portuguese colony, a 50-minute ferry ride from Hong Kong, in the first three months of the year.

Last year, 7,307 Indians visited this South China Sea facing territory in the first quarter of the year. This year the number was almost double at 14,208.

It has been a steadily increasing graph. In 2007, 45,473 Indians visited Macau, which now rivals Nevada in gambling revenue, a growth of 57.33 percent from 2006 when the number was merely 28,903.

This has been credited to people coming to the island first to attend conferences or seminars and, then, after “falling madly in love with the place”, bringing their families for a second visit or choosing to come alone to sample the night life or just gambling away in the Las Vegas style of casinos.

The transformation of this sleepy colony to a vibrant tourism hub is largely attributed to word of mouth publicity and a sustained promotional campaign.

According to Sudesh Rajput, general manager of the Macau Government Tourist Office in India, the popularity is because this Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China is a “complete destination”.

“We have received record visits by Indians and it is because it is a complete destination. For corporate and business people, we have the best hotels in the world, along with the best of leisure. For families, we have theme parks, shopping, heritage and also gambling,” Rajput told IANS.

“Just name anything and we have it. This is why the popularity of the place has grown in just a short time.”

The island, which returned to Chinese rule in 1999 and has a population of 531,400, boasts of world-class hotels with two dozen casinos run by six operators such as Las Vegas gaming giants like Wynn Resorts, MGM and the Las Vegas Sands.

While the number of visitors from mainland China continues to be largest, followed by Hong Kong and then Southeast Asia, affluent Indians are clearly also attracted to its skyscrapers, wide roads, cobbled streets and its mix of the best in the west and the east.

“It is a hot favourite with Indians these days. It has good properties, casinos and also offers entertainment for children,” said Riaz Munshi, a travel agent based in New Delhi.

For Indians, reaching Macau, which has 400 years of Portuguese influence and 3,000 years of Chinese history, is easy – a visa is not required.

Travel agents usually club Macau with a visit to Hong Kong, the nearest airport. And it comes relatively cheap.

“A four-day visit, including two nights in Macau, costs Rs.40,000-45,000 per person,” said Munshi, the managing director at N. Chirag Travel Private Limited, terming business to the sector as “fantastic”.

“I had come here with my family last year. But after seeing the nightlife and the thriving casinos, I planned to come again with friends,” said a businessman, who did not want to reveal his name.

Hopping from one casino to another, he said they were first a bit unsure about gambling but gained confidence after they started winning.

“We are having the time of our life. We are hoping to come again some time later this year. But of course just with friends,” said the beaming middle-aged businessman obviously out for some fun – without his family.

But then Macau is for everybody – those gambling fortunes with a roll of the dice and also those with the itch to travel.