The reopening of Macau’s international borders has breathed fresh life into the local gaming and tourism industries.
The Macau SAR Government announced the lifting of all quarantine policies from 8 January 2023, officially opening its doors to welcome visitors from around the world for the first time in three years.
The sudden reopening has industry experts and tourism operators exhibiting a renewed sense of optimism that the good times for Macau could return sooner rather than later.
Speaking with Inside Asian Gaming, Ryan Hong-Wai Ho, lecturer at the Centre for Gaming and Tourism Studies, Macao Polytechnic University said the reopening of borders sends a positive message to all business sectors in Macau.
“The economy was down to the bottom in 2022 as the gaming industry was on the slide, so it is a good start for the whole year,” Ho said. “It would definitely benefit the industry development.”
The easing of COVID-19 restrictions also saw Macau drop all nucleic acid test (NAT) and quarantine requirements for people entering Macau from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan while cancelling the traffic light health code system. On the same day, a mandatory quarantine requirement for arrivals from foreign countries was lifted with the only restriction remaining being a requirement to show a negative NAT or Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) result obtained within the previous 48 hours.
However, Ho noticed that the consumption pattern of visitors has changed after reopening and warned the industry to be aware.
Ho observed that there have been some major changes to Macau’s gaming industry over the past three years, “as mainland China has adjusted its policies towards gambling.
“The consumption pattern of mainland China gamblers has changed, the mode of operations of VIP rooms has changed, the entire social situation has changed and the spending of visitors has significantly changed,” he said.
The gaming industry has also undergone an evolution, particularly with completion of the re-tendering of gaming concessions, amendment of the criminal law in mainland China to prohibit offshore gambling and the passing of new gaming and junket laws in Macau.
Now, Ho said, the Macau gaming industry has shifted its focus towards the mass market and dealing with broader challenges than the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“(We) evaluate Macau’s gaming industry this year from a macroeconomic view, as Macau is an open economy,” he said. “The US interest rate hike and geopolitical and socio-economic conditions will bring new challenges to Macau and its gaming industry. These sorts of challenges are not similar to the impact of the pandemic in the previous three years but are global impacts.”
However, he adds, “Even facing the threats from emerging gaming cities such as Singapore or the Philippines, Macau can give more confidence to gamblers in terms of security, its legal system and its facilities.”
The reopening of borders has already seen visitor numbers on the rise, with more than 100,000 visitor arrivals in the first three days and more than 150,000 on the following three-day weekend (Friday to Saturday). More than 400,000 crossed into Macau during the Lunar New Year holiday period.
A souvenir shop owner in the Ruínas de São Paulo area told IAG that his business had peaked for the first time in three years after Macau lifted all zero-COVID measures.
“Finally we are seeing queues of visitors outside souvenir shops and a crowd of people at the Ruínas de São Paulo,” he explained, while discussing how hard the past three years have been.
“Policies changed over and over again. And whenever the economy improved a little bit, a new wave of COVID-19 outbreaks occurred. We have dealt with many disappointments over these three years and eventually the dawn has come. I am very impressed at this moment.”
The President of the Travel Industry Council of Macau, Wu Keng Kuong, added, “The dawn of the tourism industry has finally come.
“The tourism industry is optimistic about the development of this year. Although tour groups from the mainland have not yet resumed (as of mid-January), the industry is preparing as well. Tour guides and coach drivers received aid from the government; it is believed that there are over 400 tour guides who can cope with the resumption of tour groups.”