Overcoming vaccine hesitancy may be the key to helping Macau’s integrated resort and tourism operators stage a faster recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
When will Macau’s casino revenues return to 2019/pre-pandemic levels? This is something I have been regularly asked ever since the COVID-19 outbreak forced the sudden cancellation of Macau’s Golden Week Chinese New Year celebrations in January 2020 and the closure of its casinos for 15 days shortly after.
It is clear that the trajectory of Macau’s casino and tourism recovery, and building resilience, is based on medical data and science, with medical professionals directing us towards nucleic acid testing, track and trace technology, and containment of COVID-19 surges and new virus variants. A recent outbreak of COVID-19 cases in nearby Guangzhou highlighted just how quickly the recovery trajectory can change, with visitation to Macau and casino revenues taking an immediate hit. Certainly short-term predictions around GGR revenue looked vastly better a month ago given there was little indication such a setback was about to impact one of Macau’s key visitor source areas.
Some reporting in Guangzhou following the new virus resurgence described an increase in vaccination rates as a result. This is notable as it shows one of the key factors in overcoming vaccine hesitancy challenges has been a perceived threat from the virus. Vaccination levels are now embedded in tourism, hospitality, event and entertainment industry recovery strategies globally, becoming a central component to re-openings.
Similarly, the Macau government has over several months urged the adult population to get vaccinated, launching a city-wide public health campaign that has included an easy-to-use online vaccination booking platform and multiple vaccination locations.
Recently, financial and time-off-work incentives provided by Macau’s six casino concessionaires have led to increased vaccination numbers among their staff. The incentive tactic again has proved to be an effective measure to convince some who are hesitant to take the vaccine.
I recently wrote, “While maintaining a city safe from COVID-19, Macau is now challenged to quicken its community immunity goal given the onset of multiple COVID-19 variants in Asia. Macau is economically dependent on tourism, and with this, the continuous opening of borders – the travel bubble has ensured some visitation. Still it is limiting and more is needed to bring the industry to profit.”
This was part of the concluding remarks in a recently published commentary by myself and co-author José Pinto in the medical journal The Lancet Regional Health – Western Pacific on Macau’s vaccination challenge and its link to tourism recovery, casino profitability and fostering city resilience.
Not long ago, I was one of five adults in the elevator of a Macau hotel. I calculated that statistically, only one of us was vaccinated. I was tempted to conduct an on-the-spot elevator survey asking everyone, “Did you take the vaccine? Why? Why not?”
Creating more data on vaccine hesitancy in Macau would certainly be valuable in navigating a path to higher inoculation rates, including information around age, education level, household structure, employment sector, resident/non-resident and more to help guide the government’s vaccination messaging and imagery. Useful data around vaccinating those aged under 16 years may also become a possibility in the future.
The issue of increasing vaccination, as part of ongoing border reopening and recovery, needs to consider the assertions in the medical literature that, like the seasonal flu, COVID-19 will be an endemic disease.
However, as Y. Lau wrote in a Hong Kong Medical Journal article titled “Looking beyond COVID-19 as a pandemic, “With the attainment of herd immunity through vaccination … this will render COVID-19 as a common cold rather than a severe disease. This is the preferred and most likely future scenario, rather than global eradication, which is unrealistic.”
Given this future possible scenario, Macau’s COVID-19 vaccination level, COVID-19 mandates, proof of vaccination and annual vaccination boosters will likely become part of the normal discourse across Macau’s casino, hospitality, tourism, retail, transportation and event sectors. They are factors that should perhaps be inserted as part of future scenario planning and dashboard metrics on what a casino and tourism recovery trajectory and timeframe looks like for Macau.