China resumes tourist visas to Macau, lifting recovery hopes

Without Chinese visitation, Macau's gaming revenue plunged by over 90 per cent for four consecutive months.
Without Chinese visitation, Macau's gaming revenue plunged by over 90 per cent for four consecutive months.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - China will resume issuing tourist visas for visitors to Macau, paving the way for the mass return of Chinese punters to the world's largest gaming hub after months of losses.

Zhuhai city in neighbouring Guangdong province will begin issuing tourist visas for mainland residents to travel to Macau again on Aug 12, said Macau's Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Ao Ieong U on Monday (Aug 10) in a press briefing. The move reverses a ban implemented in late January to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The resumption of visas, coming less than a month after the removal of a two-week quarantine requirement for visitors, effectively revives the gambling enclave whose revenue had been five times larger than the Las Vegas Strip before the pandemic, driven largely by Chinese demand.

Without Chinese visitation, Macau's gaming revenue plunged by over 90 per cent for four consecutive months and operators have been losing US$15 million (S$20.6 million) daily in expenses, according to a Morgan Stanley estimate. Rumours of the visa resumption had lifted a Bloomberg gauge of Macau stocks as much as 3.9 per cent on Monday.

Macau's gross domestic product, heavily reliant on the tourism and gaming industry, shrank 49 per cent in the first quarter of this year. Even though casino operators re-opened after an unprecedented 15-day shutdown in February, travel curbs meant tourists and high rollers couldn't get there.

The coronavirus outbreak has been largely contained in Macau as well as in mainland China, although neighbouring Hong Kong is seeing a resurgence. Macau hasn't found any new coronavirus cases since the end of June.