BEIJING, Dec. 21 -- With visitor numbers soaring to a staggering 22.9 million in 2008, up from 7.44 million in 1999, Macao is now one of the few tourism destinations in the world to have sustained a stable development for its tourism industry, despite the twin lingering specters of both the global financial crisis and the H1N1 epidemic.
In the 10-year interval between December 20, 1999 - the date that Macao returned to Chinese rule - and December 20, 2009, the government of the Macao Special Administrative Region (SAR) has focused on nurturing the island's tourism industry, a policy that seems to have paid a considerable dividend of late.
Throughout the last decade, the Macao Government Tourism Office has maintained a high-visibility strategy, building awareness of the region across a range of new markets, whilst refining its own tourism resources.
This policy saw the appeal of Macao highlighted through a series of promotions in a range of different cities across the world, all of which were introduced to the program's "Experience Macao" theme. These promotions showcased the region's singular combination of Chinese and Western culture, as well as the unique charm of its recreational facilities and exhibitions venues.
Although Macao is a comparatively small town, its historical significance and cultural heritage is incomparable. It boasts splendid hotels and resorts, world famous concert halls and theatres, large shopping malls and food streets replete with Chinese and Western restaurants.
To underline its standing as city with a complex history stretching back more than 450 years, back in 2002 the Macao government began to lobby UNESCO to designate "the historic center of Macao" as a world cultural heritage site. Following three years of intense activity, work, UNESCO acknowledged the area as a world heritage site during the 29th world heritage committee meeting.
The historic center of Macao includes the most venerable, most substantial, best-preserved and most concentrated sites of Chinese and Western architecture in the whole of China. Centered on Macao old town, the area has traditionally styled houses, ancient temples dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties and architecture of a distinct southern European style. It also features baroque churches, including the world famous Ruins of St. Paul's, the A-Ma Temple, St. Dominic's Church and the similarly-styled Dom Pedro V Theatre.
With its advantageous geographical location, Macao has access to a number of rich resources, all within a 3-hour flight. The tourism office has now introduced many preferential flight deals, aimed at attracting visitors to the surrounding areas. The completion of many large-sized recreational facilities and hotels has also made the city a truly international destination, with unlimited prospects for future development.
The tourist office has also inaugurated a number of annual sports and cultural events and launched a number promotional sports fixtures.
The Macau Grand Prix has always been one of these annual events and, aside from the main race, it also includes a number of motorcycle, super touring cars and Formula-1 competitions. During the event, the whole city is said to be gripped by the excitement generated by the race and is caught up in its vibrant atmosphere.
This year's 56th Macau Grand Prix attracted more than 58,000 visitors, up 3.57 percent compared to last year.
To mark the 10th anniversary of the handover on December 20, a number of events are planned throughout the region. These include a highprofile flag-raising ceremony in the morning, followed by a spectacular fireworks performance in the evening.
Apart from experiencing the distinctive charm of Macao whilst ambling through its yellow churches and green streets, many visitors find the city's culinary range irresistible. Rua Do Cunha is a famous food thoroughfare in Macao, featuring many Portuguese restaurants and stalls offering gift-wrapped food parcels. Dozens of excellent gift shops line the streets and offer a selection of exquisite foodstuffs, including egg pastes, apricot cakes, egg rolls and peanut candy.
Macao is also a paradise for shoppers. Its low tax tariff policy, advantageous geographical location and low-levels of domestic consumption have all resulted in highly enjoyable shopping experience for many visitors.
In recent years, many large and luxury shopping centers have opened for business, providing comfortable and convenient shopping opportunities. The two large one-stop Duty Free Shoppers Gallerias, managed by the DFS group, the largest duty free operators in the world, are by far the most prominent.
On the business tourism front, Macao has invested in high levels of communications, conferencing and corporate entertainment facilities, making it an ideal venue for commercial visitors.
According to government statistics, Macao hosted 206 meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) events in 1999.
By 2008, the total number of such events had risen to 1,240. The number of MICE events held during the first half of 2009 was 730, including 694 meetings/conferences (95 percent of the total) and 36 exhibitions.