Macau’s casino operators can expect to see a normalization of border operations with mainland China within two or three months, further driving recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Melco Resorts & Entertainment Chairman and CEO Lawrence Ho.
Speaking on Melco’s overnight earnings call after the company reported a return to positive EBITDA and rising revenues across all properties in 4Q20, Ho pointed to a surprisingly strong increase in customer volumes since the end of Chinese New Year, primarily in the high-return premium mass segment. But he also predicted the recovery would soon get even stronger, suggesting moves were already underway to further ease border restrictions between Macau and the mainland within months.
“Speaking to various levels of the government, they are very proactively talking to China and the relevant bureau in terms of restarting the e-channel for the [Individual Visit Scheme] visas, restarting group tours,” Ho said.
“There are a lot of incremental positives that they’re working on. And with COVID being under control in China, we do think that once visitation returns and it’s easier for people to get into Macau, the appetite is definitely there.
“This is ultimately up to discussions between Macau and the Chinese government, but assuming vaccine roll-out is going smoothly in Macau, and it has already started in Hong Kong too, I do think it is really two or three months rather than what we’ve been thinking for the past year which has been longer and longer.
“Hopefully sometime in Q2, maybe the end of Q2, we’ll see some normalization.”
Melco confirmed what has already been widely reported about a recent dip in customer traffic during the Chinese New Year holiday, but said it had been pleasantly surprised by the rapid return of premium players in the weeks since.
“It was pretty amazing, when we go back and look as they started dropping the number of [mainland China] cities and provinces [on Macau’s quarantine list], the number of people that came in,” said Melco’s COO, Macau Resorts, David Sisk.
“We’ve had so many days of arrivals and players that have either cancelled or said they weren’t coming but ended up coming. It was pretty extraordinary for us.
“We weren’t sold out, it wasn’t like it normally is for Chinese New Year, but it was much better than we saw in the October Golden Week. And we think there is again room for optimism as we go forward here. We know customers want to come.”