After a dismal streak, Macau bets heavily on mainland tourists

Though recovering, the island’s gambling economy is still only generating a tiny fraction of previous returns.

Photo by Ge Zhenwei

Photo by Ge Zhenwei

By GE Zhenwei


It has been three months since mainland residents were allowed to travel to the Macau SAR again. In the afternoon of a sunny December 18, Jiemian reporters visited the Ruins of St. Paul’s. A couple of dozen tourists were seen hanging around what is still one of the city’s most popular attractions. It was more than we expected but obviously less than the thousands who used to visit the site each day.

There are currently no people at all queuing in front of Ju Kee Souvenir at No. 23, St. Paul’s Street, previously one of the busiest and most popular shops.

Survival is far from easy in the shadow of the Ruins this year. Shops have closed. There are rent/sale signs on the doors. Restaurants send touts onto the street to try to attract what few diners there may be.

Inconvenient tests

Since September 23, the number of tourists visiting Macau has increased from about 200 per day to more than 20,000 per day. During the National Day holiday at the beginning of October, more than 150,000 tourists visited Macau, with 93 percent coming from mainland China which usually accounts for around 70 percent of visitors.

Most domestic travelers can enter Macau as long as they provide proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test.

Although the number of tourists is increasing, it is still a lot less than this time last year.

Travelers find the COVID-19 test an annoyance. Besides, many mainland travelers do not know much about the situation in Macau and still have concerns.

Architecture apart, people go to Macau to gamble and the casino business is moving very slowly. Even at the Grand Lisboa, many tables are empty.

In 2019, Macau's gambling revenue was approximately US$37 billion, five times that of Las Vegas, the world's second casino city. Gambling is still Macau's pillar industry. More than 80 percent of the total revenue of the Macau SAR government comes from the gambling industry. The epidemic hit Macau's casinos hard, and the industry has only just begun a slow recovery.

According to the gambling bureau, gross gambling revenue in October was US$9 billion, more than three times the previous month, but still only a fraction of last year’s numbers. Gambling stocks, including Wynn Macau, Sands China and MGM China have all rebounded significantly.

The hotel industry is in a similar situation. Although there are more tourists, the price of star-rated hotels are still hovering in the hundreds of yuan, while the previous price was thousands.