Basking in its recent designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Macau is expecting a record-breaking 1.5 million arrivals from Taiwan this year, and an even more robust growth in Taiwanese arrivals in 2006, the former Portuguese enclave's Taiwan promoter said yesterday.
"From January to September of this year, we already received over 1.2 million Taiwanese tourists," said Pauline Leung, representative of the Macau Government Tourist Office in Taipei.
"We believe we will exceed 1.5 million arrivals from Taiwan by the end of 2005, and that's comparable to our 2002 record."
Macau, which has earned the moniker "Las Vegas of the Orient" because of its flashy casinos, is banking on its centuries-old sites to attract Taiwan's history buffs and cultural junkies.
In July, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization inscribed Macau on the World Heritage List. The designated area, the Macau Historic Center, incorporates 12 cultural heritage sites including the A-Ma Temple, Guia Fortress, Leal Senado Building, and the ruins of St. Paul.
Macau launched its world heritage bidding in July 2002.
Several value-for-money tour packages focusing on Macau's historical attractions will be promoted at the Taipei International Travel Fair. The four-day show, one of the most popular trade events in the country, is kicking off tomorrow at the Taipei World Trade Center Hall 1.
"We will actually be carrying the 'Macau World Heritage Site' theme at the fair," said Leung, adding that the territory's show booth will feature a replica of the Guia Lighthouse.
The UNESCO designation confirms Macau's distinctiveness, she added.
"We believe several travelers are looking for this type of tourism product," Leung said. "In fact, we've learned that people between the ages of 30 and 50 prefer cultural tours. Taiwanese tourists have also grown more sophisticated. They are not just interested in dramatic sceneries or historical relics, they want to know the stories behind those ruins, and the lives of the people who built those structures five centuries ago."
One such place was a centuries-old mansion built by the Family Lu in Macau, she said.
"Everything about it was exquisitely built," Leung enthused, "from its windows to its walls. The guide also told us that the 'green' bricks used in that building were so difficult to make that a worker could only produce 16 bricks per day."
Today, those bricks cost more than gold, she said.
"Before, whenever Macau was mentioned, the first thing that people thought of was its casinos. The UNESCO designation has changed all that," said the official. "Travelers are looking for destinations that can satisfy them intellectually, and we believe Macau fits that requirement to a 'T.'"
Two large tour groups from Taiwan are taking on a Macau Heritage Tour this month, Leung added.
Macau is also one of Asia's shopping havens, she said. Premium merchandise, from fine jewelry and antique furniture to delicate fabrics and gourmet specialities, can be found in the territory, she said.
"I bought a lot of antique furniture from Macau," said Leung, noting that rare pieces - such as antique "dark" rosewood furniture - can be found in the former Portuguese enclave.
"The great thing about Macau's furniture shopkeepers is that they are honest. They will tell you if the furniture is made from antique wood but newly made," she added.
Beautiful but affordable fabrics are also widely available in Macau, said the travel promoter. "And they have so many good tailors who charge very reasonable rates," she said.
At the Taipei travel fair, tour operators will be selling weekday Macau packages for only NT$7,500, Leung said. The three-day, two-night package includes accommodations in a shared suite, and airfare. "That's even cheaper than some local tours," Leung said.