The return of Japanese tourists has been described as a positive start for South Korea’s foreigner-only casinos as they begin their long road back to recovery.
In a research report titled “Casino Industry: Japanese Customers Are Back”, NH Investment & Securities analyst Lee Hwa-jung said it was primarily Japanese players behind a recent surge in casino volumes in South Korea, with Paradise Co this week reporting a 40.7% increase in August table drop compared with July, and GKL a 23.9% increase for the same period.
This, Lee explained, comes after the two countries began issuing reciprocal visas for the first time in two-and-a-half years in June.
“With the re-opening, the business situation of Korean casinos has been fully normalized, and with the easing of restrictions on movement between countries, access to foreign casino customers is gradually improving,” he wrote.
“In particular, Japan’s easing of the national lockdown has [had] a significant effect on improving the accessibility of foreign casino customers.
“Before COVID-19, the two axes of foreign casinos in Korea were Japanese customers. Since June, when the issuance of Japanese tourist visas was resumed, the monthly drop amount for foreigner-only casinos in Korea also showed a marked improvement thanks to the recovery of Japanese customers.
“After Chuseok (Korea’s mid-autumn festival on 19 September), customers’ accessibility is expected to improve further as the duty to test for COVID-19 upon entering Korea will be abolished.
“Pent-up demand, which has been waiting for two and a half years, has entered a period where demand is in full swing.”
Also encouraging, according to Lee, is the fact that this recovery trajectory has been established despite visa issuance remaining limited – the current program expires at the end of this month – and air routes yet to be fully normalized.
Nevertheless, he noted that the Gimpo (Seoul)-Haneda route has recently seen direct flights increased to 28 per week while the implementation of a temporary visa waiver for Japanese tourists arriving in Korea since August had seen visitor numbers increase by between 23% and 58%, depending on the airline.
While full recovery won’t be seen until mainland China eases its COVID-zero policy, Lee said South Korea’s foreigner-only casinos can expect solid visitation from Japan with Paradise Co best positioned to capitalize on the Japanese market.
“In the foreigner-only casino industry, using complex resorts and local partners, Paradise, which has differentiated capabilities for Japanese VIPs as well as mass customers, is presented as a top pick,” he said.
“Paradise is showing differentiated performance from its competitors with its capacity to attract customers using local partners (Sega Sammy) and complex resorts (Paradise City).
“If visa waiver resumes and the number of flights increases, the benefits will be even greater.”