After many weeks of industry uncertainty, there’s a certain “reopening stirring” in the air.
The casinos in Korea are back open for business. In Vietnam, the unfortunately named Corona casino has reopened, albeit with restrictions. In Hong Kong, the Golden Bus on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is back, teachers and students are now freely crossing the mainland border, and there is a possible target date of 8 June for the border to open completely – at least with the mainland.
In the Philippines, the current ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) end date of 15 May is nearly upon us, Manila airport reopens gingerly today (Monday) and President Duterte is rumored to make further reopening announcements imminently. In Singapore, the date currently set for reopening Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa, 1 June, is now just three weeks away.
In Macau, where I’m penning this, it’s over a month since our last new COVID-19 case, we have only four active cases and less than 200 people are serving out their 14-day quarantine at the SAR’s sole remaining quarantine hotel, Pousada Marina Infante. From today (Monday), there’s now mutual recognition of the green-yellow-red health code systems in Macau and the mainland.
Two things need to happen to hit the “go” button in Macau. First, reinstatement of the IVS (individual visit Scheme), even if just from a few cities in Guangdong, and second, the removal of the 14 day quarantine for visitors returning to mainland China. Either, or even both, could happen this month – if we’re lucky, or in June – more likely.
Once we do hit that “go” button, four factors will drive the GGR ramp-up.
The China macroeconomy
The revenue of IRs across Asia, and especially in Macau, has always been closely correlated with the state of the economy in China. Industry EBITDA is driven by the lucrative premium direct sector, itself dominated by perhaps one to two million “players who matter,” many of whom are business owners in Guangdong and elsewhere in China.
Factor 1: China economic rebound
The Chinese economy has taken a real hit due to COVID-19 and those one to two million “players who matter” will be focussed on the recovery of their own businesses before their minds turn to visiting IRs.
Factor 2: China government stimulus
For decades the Chinese government has seen its stellar domestic economic performance as a key metric of its own success and international soft power. It will be very reticent to allow its economy to falter, and may even seize the opportunity of a virus-weakened US economy to introduce any number of stimulus measures to strongly kick-start the road to recovery.
A recovered Chinese economy alone will not be enough. Potential visitors will need to be in the right state of mind to start visiting IRs again.
Factor 3: The fear factor
This is the big one. After months of being told by the government that crowds and public places are dangerous, resorts will have to convince visitors that gaming floors, restaurants, hotels and other resort public spaces are safe enough to visit – just for the fun of it. This will be no easy task, and will involve both new initiatives to create consumer confidence, as well as effectively delivering the message about those new initiatives.
Factor 4: The fun factor
Many of the new initiatives to combat the fear factor will involve separation, social distancing, going contactless and screens or barriers. But casinos and resorts are social places, where visitors have fun by interacting in groups. Reconciling these is not going to be easy.
As an industry, we have essentially no control over the China economy, but there is much we can do to drive visitor sentiment. In the next article in this series, we will look at upcoming innovations and initiatives to address the fear factor and make resorts feel safer for visitors.
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