The gaming hub on China’s south coast near Hong Kong has endured some of the world’s strictest anti-virus controls for nearly three years, and a loosening of border restrictions after China rolled back its “zero-COVID” strategy in early December is widely expected to boost its tourism-driven economy, Kanis Leung reported for the Associated Press (AP).
Photo Insert: The loosened COVID restrictions have failed to entice gamblers to return to the Las Vegas of Asia.
But for now, China’s worst wave of infections so far is keeping away the hoards of high rollers who usually fill its casinos. From Dec. 23 to 27, the city saw a daily average of only 8,300 arrivals, according to police data.
That’s just 68% of November’s level. The scene improved on New Year’s Eve with 28,100 visitors entering the city that day, but that’s only 66% of the level a year ago. The daily average was 108,000 in 2019, before the pandemic.
Last week, China announced it would resume issuing passports for tourism, potentially setting up a flood of Chinese going abroad, but also spicing up competition for Macao.
Businesses are hoping the Lunar New Year holidays in late January will bring better luck for the territory of 672,000 people, a former Portuguese colony and the only place in China where casinos are legal.
“Tourists just come here to have a walk instead of shopping,” said Antony Chau, who sells roasted chestnuts on the square known for the European-style buildings that recall its history as a former Portuguese colony. “They’re just wandering.”
When the coronavirus hit in 2020, the city’s gambling revenue collapsed 80% to just $7.5 billion from a year earlier. In 2021, the figure recovered to $10.8 billion, but that’s still down 75% from a peak of $45 billion in 2013. Gambling revenues last year was halved to $5.3 billion.