HONG KONG • Growing protests in the Asian financial centre of Hong Kong are weighing on the neighbouring Chinese territory of Macau as many visitors steer clear of the world's biggest gambling hub, worried over transport disruptions and safety concerns.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, has suffered a wave of sometimes violent protests since June as initial opposition to a now-suspended extradition Bill evolved into a direct challenge to the government and calls for full democracy.
"When you have hundreds of flights cancelled out of Hong Kong and some reluctance to travel, I do think that's impacting the premium end of the business," Mr Matt Maddox, chief executive of Wynn Resorts, which runs two Macau casinos, said this week.
Macau is an hour away by ferry from Hong Kong or a 30-minute drive from its international airport. Nearly a third of Macau's visitors arrive by sea or a recently built bridge.
The Hong Kong protests are hitting Macau's gaming revenues just as it grapples with slowing economic growth in mainland China, which contributes the bulk of its gamblers, an escalating Sino-US trade war that is deterring VIP spenders, as well as tighter government regulations.
Australia and the United States are among the countries that have raised travel advisories as Hong Kong reels from almost daily demonstrations that have spread across the city and occasionally hit a normally efficient transport network.
Casino executives and analysts said the protests were likely to affect gaming revenues for the next few weeks at least, in what is typically a busy period in Macau, a former Portuguese colony.
Last month's fall of 3.5 per cent in gaming revenues was sharper than analysts had anticipated.
Sanford Bernstein analyst Vitaly Umansky said not much could be done to deflect headwinds for gaming revenues, as many Chinese visitors have cancelled trips.
Macau's Government Tourism Office said it was closely monitoring the situation and had told representatives to report on any plans and change of trips to Macau.
The government is urging tour groups to choose Macau as the first stop of their itinerary, paired with the coastal Chinese city of Zhuhai, rather than Hong Kong.
At Hong Kong's Shun Tak Centre, where travellers board ferries for Macau, tour operators said the protests had caused their business to drop by 30 per cent or more from previous months.
The area around Shun Tak in the district of Sheung Wan, near Beijing's representative office, has been a hot spot for protests, with police firing tear gas to disperse demonstrators and forcing the centre to close for safety reasons.
"We are worried about the social problems in Hong Kong. Both we and the customers hope they can end soon," said a worker at ferry company Cotai Jet, who gave only her surname, Lau.